Difference Wiki

Refer vs. Referral: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on February 5, 2024
Refer means to direct someone to a different source for information or services; referral is the act or process of being directed, often used in contexts like healthcare or business.

Key Differences

The terms "refer" and "referral" are closely related but serve different roles in language and function. "Refer" is a verb that involves the action of directing someone to another person, place, service, or resource for information or help. It implies the act of pointing or suggesting where to go or consult for specific needs or services. For example, a doctor might refer a patient to a specialist for further treatment. On the other hand, "referral" is a noun that describes the process or instance of being sent or directed to someone or something for assistance, information, or action. It often refers to the recommendation itself, such as a document or communication that directs someone to a service or expert.
Refer is an active process, involving someone taking the action to guide or suggest another source. It's about making a connection or suggesting a course of action. For instance, in a professional setting, an employee might refer a colleague to a particular department for specific information. Referral, in contrast, embodies the concept or entity resulting from the action of referring. It's often seen as the outcome or artifact of the act, such as a referral letter from a primary care physician to a specialist or a referral code shared among friends for a service.
In practical use, refer focuses on the act of recommendation or direction. It's about the gesture of pointing someone towards something that could be of help or interest. Referral captures the essence of the relationship or pathway created by this act. It is the mechanism through which services are accessed or information is obtained, based on the act of referring. In healthcare, referrals are crucial for accessing specialized care, while in business, referrals can drive networking and customer acquisition.
Refer and referral also differ in their application and implications. To refer someone involves taking an active role in the guidance process, which requires knowledge or awareness of the resource or service being recommended. A referral, however, signifies a level of trust and formalization in the process of seeking assistance, often implying a structured pathway to obtaining a service or information, like a referral program where existing customers refer new customers to a business.
Both refer and referral are interconnected in their usage, focusing on the act of directing someone towards a resource or service, they occupy different linguistic roles. Refer describes the action itself, an active verb denoting the process of recommendation. Referral is the noun form that encapsulates the outcome, process, or document resulting from this action, serving as a bridge between a need and a solution.

Comparison Chart

Part of Speech



Act of directing someone to another source
The process or instance of being directed

Usage Context

Active recommendation or guidance
Result or outcome of the recommendation


Involves an action by the referrer
Involves receiving or following up on the recommendation


A doctor refers a patient to a specialist
A patient visits a specialist based on a referral

Refer and Referral Definitions


To mention or allude to something in speech or writing.
She referred to her notes during the presentation.


The process of directing someone to a different place or person for information, help, or action.
After discussing my career interests, my mentor made a referral to a contact in the industry.


To recommend someone for a service or assistance.
I will refer you to the best mechanic in town.


In business, a suggestion made to a potential customer about the merits of a particular company, service, or product.
I found my graphic designer through a referral from a colleague.


To direct someone to a source of information.
Please refer to the manual for troubleshooting steps.


A document or form that officially directs someone to a medical professional or service.
Please bring this referral to your appointment with the physiotherapist.


To send someone to another for consultation.
The general practitioner will refer you to a cardiologist.


In computing or online contexts, a link or code that directs someone to a website or application, often for a reward.
Use my referral code for a discount on your first purchase.


To attribute something to a specific cause.
He referred his success to hard work and dedication.


A recommendation to consult someone or use something.
Based on your symptoms, I'm giving you a referral to a specialist.


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


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


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


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


Is referral always medical?

No, referral can be used in various contexts, including business, services, and social settings.

What does it mean to refer someone?

To direct someone to a different person or resource for information, help, or services.

What is a referral in a medical context?

An official recommendation to see a specific doctor or specialist, usually provided by another healthcare professional.

What does self-referral mean?

Self-referral is when individuals seek out a specialist or service without needing a recommendation from another professional.

How important are referrals in job searching?

Very important, as they can significantly increase the chances of getting an interview and being hired.

Can the word refer be used in a job context?

Yes, it can describe recommending someone for a position or directing attention to someone's skills or experience.

What is a referral program?

A program designed to incentivize current customers or employees to recommend new clients or candidates to a business.

How do you use refer in a sentence?

"Please refer to the manual if you encounter any issues with the product."

Can refer have a negative connotation?

Typically, it's neutral, but context can give it a negative connotation, especially if it implies a problem or deficiency.

Can companies also make referrals?

Yes, companies can refer clients to other businesses or services that they think will benefit the client.

How does refer differ in the online context?

It often involves linking to or suggesting digital resources, websites, or applications.

What is a direct referral?

A recommendation made directly to a person or service without the need for an intermediary.

What does it mean to refer back to something?

To direct attention again to something previously mentioned or discussed.

What is an example of a referral in social services?

Directing a family to a food bank or counseling service based on their needs.

What's the difference between refer and reference?

"Refer" is the act of directing someone to something, while "reference" is a citation or mention of a source of information.

Can refer be used in an academic setting?

Yes, it can describe directing students to specific texts, articles, or resources for their studies.

Are referrals always formal?

Not necessarily; they can be informal, such as a friend suggesting a restaurant.

How do online referral codes work?

They provide benefits (discounts or rewards) to both the referrer and the referee when the referee uses the code for a service or product.

What is a peer referral?

A recommendation from a person of the same status, like a coworker or classmate, rather than from a superior.

Can you refer yourself for a service or program?

In some contexts, such as medical services or special programs, self-referral is possible and encouraged.
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.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons