Difference Wiki

Refer vs. Reference: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on November 13, 2023
"Refer" means to mention or allude to something, while "reference" is a mention or citation of a source for information.

Key Differences

Refer is a verb that involves mentioning or alluding to something in speech or writing. Reference, however, can be a noun referring to the act of citing or mentioning something, or the item itself being cited.
When you refer to something, you are directing attention to it or mentioning it as relevant. In contrast, a reference is often used to substantiate a point or provide evidence, as in academic or professional contexts.
Refer is the action of pointing out or mentioning something, and can imply consulting a source for information. Reference, as a noun, is the source itself that is consulted or cited, like a book or article.
Usage of refer is often more general, without necessarily citing a specific source. A reference, particularly as a noun, is specific and identifiable, like a quote or data point from a text.
In everyday language, to refer is a common action, such as referring to a past event. Reference, especially as a noun, often appears in more formal or academic writing, indicating a source of information.

Comparison Chart

Part of Speech

Verb (action of mentioning or alluding)
Noun (the citation or source itself)

Usage Context

General mentioning or directing attention.
Specific citation or mention of a source.


To point out or bring up a subject or idea.
To provide evidence or substantiation.


Common in everyday language.
Often used in formal, academic, or professional contexts.


"She referred to her notes during the speech."
"The reference in the paper was to a 2020 study."

Refer and Reference Definitions


To mention or allude to.
He referred to his previous work in the presentation.


A note in a text that directs the reader to another source.
See the footnote for further reference.


To consult for information.
She referred to her notes frequently.


The action of mentioning or alluding to something.
His reference to the movie added humor to the speech.


To direct for information or anything required.
The doctor referred her to a specialist.


A person who gives a recommendation for a job applicant.
He listed his former boss as a reference.


To hand over or submit for information or decision.
They referred the matter to the committee for review.


A mention or citation of a source of information.
The article included several references to recent research.


To have relation or reference.
The term 'it' refers to the first item.


A book or passage used to provide evidence or information.
The encyclopedia was a valuable reference.


To direct to a source for help or information
Referred her to a heart specialist.
Referred me to his last employer for a recommendation.


The act of referring to something
Filed away the article for future reference.


To submit (a matter in dispute) to an authority for arbitration, decision, or examination.


Significance for a specified matter; relation or relationship
Her speeches have special reference to environmental policy.


To direct the attention of
I refer you to the training manual.


Meaning or denotation
The reference of the word “lion” is to a kind of wild cat.


Are references always written?

Mostly, but references can also be verbal, especially in recommendations.

Can a reference be digital?

Yes, references can be digital, like online articles or databases.

Does refer always require naming the source?

No, referring to something doesn't always require naming the source.

Can refer be used in a legal context?

Yes, such as referring a case to a higher court.

Is refer always about written information?

No, refer can be used in both spoken and written contexts.

Does refer imply direct quotation?

Not necessarily, it can be an indirect allusion.

Can references be outdated?

Yes, references can become outdated, especially in fast-evolving fields.

Is a reference always formal?

Often, but informal references are also common, like in casual conversation.

Is it possible to refer to oneself?

Yes, one can refer to oneself in conversation or writing.

Can refer be synonymous with recommend?

In some contexts, like a doctor referring a patient to a specialist.

Does refer require detailed information?

Not always, it can be a general mention or allusion.

Can refer be used figuratively?

Yes, like referring to an idea metaphorically.

Can refer indicate a health condition?

Yes, like referring to symptoms or a diagnosis.

Do references add credibility to claims?

Yes, references are used to substantiate and validate claims.

Can a person be a reference?

Yes, especially in the context of job applications.

Are online links considered references?

Yes, online sources are frequently used as references.

Is a bibliography a list of references?

Yes, a bibliography is essentially a list of used or consulted references.

Do all academic papers require references?

Most academic papers do require references for credibility.

Are references necessary for a resume?

Often, especially professional references for job applications.

Is referring to previous work common in academia?

Yes, it's a standard practice to refer to relevant previous work.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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