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Referee vs. Reference: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 2, 2023
A referee oversees the play in sports, while a reference is a mention or citation of a source or a person who recommends someone.

Key Differences

A referee is a person who is in charge of enforcing the rules during a sports game, ensuring fair play. In contrast, a reference often refers to a source of information cited in a work, or a person who provides a recommendation for someone, typically for employment.
Referees are integral to sports, maintaining discipline and order during games. References serve a different purpose; they are used to substantiate information or assess a person's suitability for a role.
While the role of a referee is active and dynamic during the event they are overseeing, a reference is usually a static piece of information or a person whose opinion is sought to verify credentials.
A referee must have a thorough understanding of the game they are officiating, often requiring certification. A reference, however, could be a respected individual or a credible source that lends authority to a statement or a job applicant.
Both referees and references are relied upon for their judgement, yet the arenas they operate in—sports versus informational or evaluative contexts—set them apart distinctly.

Comparison Chart


Official in sports games
Citation or recommender


Enforces rules, maintains order
Provides information or endorsement


Academic, professional, informational

Required Skills

Knowledge of game rules, decisiveness
Knowledge of subject or candidate


Person or cited information

Referee and Reference Definitions


A mediator in a dispute.
They agreed to have a referee settle their argument.


A citation of a book, article, or author.
Her paper included a reference to a leading study on climate change.


Official who ensures fair play in a game.
The referee blew the whistle for a foul.


A person who gives a recommendation for a job applicant.
My former boss acted as a reference for my job application.


In law, a court-appointed officer who conducts a private trial and renders a judgment.
The court's referee handled the complex arbitration.


An allusion to something.
His speech made a reference to the city's historical sites.


A judge in contests or competitions outside of sports.
The referee declared her the winner of the debate.


Data stored for quick retrieval.
The program has a built-in help reference for new users.


Someone who supervises the proper conduct of an examination.
The referee caught a student trying to cheat on the test.


A mention for the purpose of information.
He made a reference to the company's previous successes during the meeting.


How do I list a reference?

Provide the reference’s name, title, organization, phone number, and email.

Is a referee always associated with sports?

Mostly, but they can also serve in other adjudicative roles.

Can a referee also be a reference?

Yes, if they recommend someone based on their character, typically in sports.

What does a referee do?

A referee officiates sports games to enforce rules.

Do referees get paid?

Yes, professional referees are typically paid for their work.

What is a reference in writing?

It’s a citation of a source in an academic or professional context.

What qualities make a good referee?

Fairness, knowledge of the game, and decisiveness.

What's a reference librarian?

Someone skilled in providing reference services in a library.

What's the difference between a referee and an umpire?

In some sports, a referee has different responsibilities than an umpire, but the terms are often used interchangeably.

Are referees part of the team they oversee?

No, they are neutral and impartial to the game’s outcome.

How are referees chosen?

Based on their expertise, experience, and certification.

Is a website a reliable reference?

It can be, depending on its credibility and the information it provides.

Can a referee eject a player?

Yes, referees have the authority to eject players for serious rule violations.

What's the difference between a referee and a coach?

A referee enforces rules; a coach trains and strategizes with the team.

What's a character reference?

A recommendation provided by someone who knows the person’s personal qualities, not professional.

What type of reference is best for a job application?

A previous employer or someone who knows your work ethic.

How many references should I have?

Typically, three professional references are sufficient.

How do I reference a website?

Include the author, publication date, title, website name, and URL.

What's an example of a bad reference?

One that is either not credible or provides negative feedback.

Can a book be a reference?

Yes, a book can be cited as a reference in other works.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
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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