Tricky Words: Deny, Reject, Refuse, Doubt, and Suspect

Verbs like deny, refuse, and reject have overlapping meanings.  Sometimes, they can even be used interchangeably.  The same is true for the pair doubt and suspect.  However, with both sets of words, the context can often help clarify the subtle differences between them.  Today in class, to help students understand them more easily, I wrote the following paragraph.

DrinksA police officer pulled over a car late at night for drunk driving.  The driver denied that he had been drinking and refused to take a breathalyzer test.  The police officer, however, suspected that he had, indeed, been drinking.  The man’s car had been swerving from side to side, and he smelled strongly of alcohol.  The officer doubted the man’s excuse that the road had been slippery and that the car smelled because he’d given a drunk friend a ride home from a bar.  The officer rejected the bribe that the man tried to offer him to “forget the whole thing.”

When you deny something, you say that it isn’t true.

He denied stealing money from the company.

The student denied plagiarizing the paper.

You can also deny a request, or say “no to” it.

His boss denied his request for a raise.

When you reject something, you say no to the offer / claim.

She rejected her date’s attempts to kiss her.

My boss rejected my proposal to switch to a four-day work week.

My friends rejected my suggestion to go to a pizza place for dinner.

When you reject an idea, you refuse to believe it.

He rejected the claim that the earth was created in seven days.

She rejects the notion that women are worse drivers than men.

When you refuse something, you say “No thanks” or “I won’t do it.”

My friend refused to loan me $1,000 for the weekend.

His girlfriend refused to let his dog sleep in the bed with them.

When you doubt something, you think that it isn’t true/won’t happen.

My friend doubted that I would repay his $1,000 even though I promised that I would.

The weatherman doubted that it would snow tomorrow.

When you suspect something/someone, you use evidence to come to your conclusion–often negative.  

My friend suspected that I would take his money and run.

I suspected that the group of teenagers I saw in the park was up to no good.

Which verbs best fits?          (Answers below)


Alleyway 2



Flat Planet

Boy Vegetables

Bed Cartoon

Police Interview

Possible Answers:

1) She refused to marry him.  She rejected his marriage proposal.

2) They suspected that he was the murderer.

3) He refused the money.  He rejected the bribe.

4)  I doubt that ghosts exist.

5)  I doubt that the world is flat.

6)  He rejected the broccoli.

7) She doubted that there was a tooth fairy after her mother forgot to take her tooth & leave money under her pillow.  She suspected that her mother had been lying to her about the tooth fairy.  At first, her mother denied it, but finally she confessed.

8)  The suspect denied the accusation.  He denied having been the robber.