• To disprove, correct, or otherwise stop the spread of an idea or rumor

  • To remove, bring to a stop, or send away by dissolving or disbanding


Rumors have been flying about for weeks now that you're a lightweight at Scrabble, and you're rightfully indignant. So you had one bad game - it happens to all of us! There's no reason why a few straight rounds of nothing but vowels should cloud your otherwise stellar wordsmithing. Yet it seems that the murmurs and exaggerations about that game have collected and grown within the word-gaming community to create an impression that is pernicious, illogical, and utterly false! It's time you dissolve those rumors once and for all. Get pumped and ready to rock your next match: it'll be your chance to definitively dispel that gossip at last.

To dispel is to purposefully make something undesirable stop or go away. Usually, the word specifically implies a sense of "dispersing" or "dissolving" something that has multiple components or a general nature. When you dispel something, you break it apart and scatter it in all directions, thus hopefully ridding yourself of its presence for good. The word is most often used figuratively to describe the act of putting a stop to an incorrect or unwanted idea. To disperse in this way means to thoroughly end a belief by definitively disproving it or insisting that it is false or wrong; essentially, you're driving an idea away with the force of your knowledge, personality, or message. This makes rumors, impressions, habits, and feelings some of the most common things to be dispelled.

Dispel can also describe the literal act of disbanding groups of objects. The word is best applied when scattering collections of individual objects - you could dispel the leaves in your yard with a leaf blower, for instance - or more nebulous, fluid entities like clouds and odors. Dispelling in this way can indicate that an object is being dissolved into smaller components and repelled in all directions or that it's been spread about so much and so far as to be negated.

One last thing to remember is that using dispel indicates that there is someone who's actually doing the driving apart. Things don't just dispel on their own; instead, an outside agent is required to scatter them. So while people in a crowd might wander apart on their own after a while out of boredom, they wouldn't be dispelled unless there was someone there who made them leave.

Example: I raced into the backyard to dispel the rabbits that had gathered around my vegetable garden.

Example: No matter how often I waved my arms at them, I couldn't seem to dispel the rabbits' perception that my lettuce was for them.

Example: At some point, I'm sure the rabbits will grow frustrated and rise up, eager to dispel our complacency as the superior species.

Example: It took me forever to dispel the guilt of letting the rabbits go hungry.


To understand the origin of dispel, you kind of have to dispel it into two Latin roots. The first of these is the prefix dis-, meaning "away from" or "to another place." This is joined with the verb pellere, which means "to force or cause to move" (and also appears in common English words related to motion and motivation like compel, expel, and propel). The earliest conjunction of these two was the Latin dispellere, which means "to separate" or "to force into different parts." Dispellere influenced the formation of the English dispelen, which would be shortened to the familiar dispel by 1400.

Derivative Words

Dispels: This simple present form of dispel is used when a singular, third-person subject puts a stop to a belief or forces something away into different directions.

Example: At the beginning of every school year, the teacher dispels the rumors that she's unfair and mean by greeting her students with a warm, honest introduction.

Example: Each morning, Jack dispels the fog of sleep by rinsing his face with cold water.

Dispelled: This preterit of dispel is used when someone has driven something apart in the past.

Example: Kayla dispelled worries about her health with a single backflip.

Example: The Sun's rays dispelled the morning mist.

Dispelling: This present progressive form of dispel is used when someone is currently scattering something away or getting rid of some held notion.

Example: My father pitched a perfect nine innings in his last softball game, dispelling the notion that older gents can't be athletic.

Example: After the game, he claimed to have had a hard time dispelling the crowd of admirers and autograph-seekers.

Dispeller: This noun refers to a person who makes something go away by breaking it apart. It's usually used as part of the phrase "dispeller of __."

Example: A teacher is a dispeller of ignorance.

Example: After the accident, the policeman served as a dispeller of gawkers.

Similar Words

Like dispel, disperse also indicates that something is broken apart or scattered. Things that are dispersed, though, might not necessarily be removed - they could be just spread out. Also, whereas an outside person is needed to dispel, things might become dispersed of their own accord.

In Literature

From Jane Austin's Mansfield Park:

There is nothing like employment, active indispensable employment, for relieving sorrow. Employment, even melancholy, may dispel melancholy.

In this passage, Austin uses dispel to describe how keeping busy and feeling useful can drive away sadness. As she shrewdly points out, even a job you dislike can dispel the sadness of an idle mind.


  • Dispel expels something in all different directions

  • Dispel disproves a nasty rumor


Scatter, Rumors, Dissolve

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of dispel. Did you use dispel in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.