'Presume' or 'Assume': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on January 27, 2023

'Presume' or 'assume' are two words with very similar meanings. So what's the difference between the two? That's what we'll explore today.

In short, 'presume' and 'assume' both mean to take something for granted, to believe it's true even though there's no evidence. They are pretty much interchangeable, though there are slight differences.

What is the Difference Between 'Presume' or 'Assume?'

Differentiating between 'presume' and 'assume' is tricky since they are very similar in meaning. They both mean that you believe something to be true without knowing for sure.

What's more, dictionaries present very similar definitions for both words. The Merriam-Webster dictionary, for example, defines 'presume' as "to suppose to be true without proof" and 'assume' as "to take as granted or true." According to this definition, the difference seems to be in whether or not there's proof.

The thing is, 'presume' is a word often used in legal contexts, so it has a niche definition for those circumstances. Specifically, it refers to the act of presuming someone innocent until proven guilty.

But in everyday usage, the difference between these two verbs is slim.

There might be a clue in the word presume’s prefix: -pre. This prefix comes from the Latin phrase meaning "before in time or place." This seems to imply that if you presume something to be true, a previous experience led you to believe so.

For example, if your child always wakes you up at 6 am on a Saturday expecting pancakes, the next time this happens, you might say: "I presume you want your pancakes." Because you know from previous experience this is what they want.

However, if you are meeting with a client, you've never met before, and you might spot them in the cafe and approach them, saying, "I assume you're Mr. Williams."

But when all is said and done, these words are used interchangeably. So feel free to use personal preference when deciding which one to use.

Top tip! 'Assume' and 'presume' also have alternative meanings. To assume a role is to adopt it as yours, sometimes by pretending. To presume is to do something you don't have the right to do. These definitions don't relate to the topic of this article, but it's always good to know!

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Presume' and 'Assume'

Okay, so you know what these words mean. What about pronunciation, though? If you have to say these words out loud, you might want to know how to pronounce them first. Here's how the International Phonetic Alphabet spells 'presume:.'


And 'assume:'


And when you say them, they sound like this:



When to Use 'Presume' and 'Assume'

Now for some examples of these two words used in a sentence. I'm going to use them interchangeably in these examples.

He didn't explicitly say it, but I assume he will move to Atlanta for his new job.

I presume you want to shoot this with a wide lens.

Why did you assume I would choose the first option?

The clients assumed we would have the meeting at the office.

Just because she likes novels, you shouldn't presume she likes to read just about anything.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, 'presume' and 'assume' are pretty much interchangeable. If you want to be absolutely sure, use 'presume' in a legal context and when your prior experience leads you to believe something will go a certain way. But otherwise, don't stress about it.

If you'd like to learn about more confusing words like 'presume' and 'assume,' we've covered lots of these on our blog.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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