The Meaning of Benefit of the Doubt: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever wondered what the meaning of the phrase benefit of the doubt is? This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the phrase benefit of the doubt, including its definition from the dictionary, synonyms and antonyms, etymology, sentence examples, and more!

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What is the definition of give the benefit of the doubt?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary as well as other dictionary apps, the phrase the benefit of the doubt means that someone is choosing to believe someone or accept something as honest or deserving of trust even though there may be doubts or evidence to the contrary. Someone might choose to give you the benefit of the doubt if you have proven to be a trustworthy person in the past, even though there may be some evidence to the contrary. This phrase is often used in a court of law to state that the person on trial has the right to be presumed innocent until the court of law proves them guilty. 

What is the origin of the phrase benefit of the doubt?

According to Phrases and The Idioms, the phrase benefit of the doubt likely originated  in law and is related to the phrase reasonable doubt, which means that it is presumed the person being tried is assumed innocent until proven guilty. This phrase may have been used first during the Irish treason trials of 1798. It is possible that this phrase was also used in the Boston Massacre Trials of 1770, but there is not written evidence of this. The current wording of the phrase benefit of the doubt was recorded in the late 1800s. 

What are synonyms and antonyms for the phrase give the benefit of the doubt?

If someone is giving someone else the benefit of the doubt, this means that they are believing them. There are many different ways that someone can say that they believe someone, even if there is evidence pointing to the contrary. For this, someone can use a synonym. A synonym is a word or phrase that means the same thing as another word or phrase. This can be used to expand one’s vocabulary or to avoid repeating oneself. This list of synonyms is provided by Thesaurus.

  • admit
  • be convinced of
  • regard
  • count on
  • conclude
  • accredit
  • think
  • credit
  • take it
  • have faith in
  • rest assured
  • trust
  • take for granted
  • take as gospel
  • conceive
  • suppose
  • deem
  • be of the opinion
  • presume true
  • rely on
  • swallow
  • presuppose
  • understand
  • buy
  • take at one’s word
  • postulate
  • posit
  • affirm
  • fall for
  • reckon on
  • have no doubt
  • hold
  • attach weight to
  • have
  • place confidence in
  • trust
  • swear by
  • be certain of
  • give credence to
  • consider
  • be credulous
  • keep the faith
  • lap up
  • accept
  • believe

If someone wanted to say that they are giving someone the opposite of the benefit of the doubt, this person could use what is called an antonym, which is a word or phrase that has the opposite meaning of a given word or phrase. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • smell a rat
  • doubt
  • disbelieve
  • surmise
  • be dubious
  • hesitate
  • be uncertain
  • fluctuate
  • waver
  • harbor suspicion
  • discredit
  • impugn
  • give no credence
  • have qualms
  • dispute
  • read differently
  • be puzzled
  • misgive
  • take dim view of
  • demur
  • wonder at
  • skepticize
  • imagine
  • vacillate
  • challenge
  • mistrust
  • be undetermined
  • distrust
  • fear
  • be in a quandary
  • not buy
  • scruple
  • insinuate
  • misdoubt
  • shilly-shally
  • be apprehensive of
  • query
  • call in question
  • suspect
  • be curious

How can the phrase benefit of the doubt be used in a sentence?

There are many different circumstances in which someone might give someone else the benefit of the doubt. This phrase can be used in a court of law, but it can also be used in everyday language to discuss people who are trustworthy in suspicious circumstances. In this example, a mother and father are discussing their daughter, who arrived home extremely late the night before very upset.

Mom: What was the matter with Lacey last night? It’s really not like her to be home that late, no call, not nothing, and especially to ignore us all and slam the door. What do you think happened? Do you think she was drunk? High?

Dad: Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Lacey’s never missed curfew before, and she always calls us when she thinks there’s even a chance she might be late. Something must have happened. Maybe a fight with her boyfriend or one of her friends. Why don’t you take her out for a coffee this morning and bring it up?

Mom: Good idea. I hope everything is okay.

Here, Lacey’s mom and dad are giving her the benefit of the doubt that she did not do anything illegal or illicit the night prior because she is always on top of her game with keeping them in the loop and being home on time. In this next example, Lacey’s drawer is short at her cashiering job. 

Boss: Lacey, come here for a second. Your drawer is short.

Lacey: What? Oh my God, I swear, I didn’t take anything. I can turn out my pockets. WE can check the cameras. Anything.

Boss: Whoa, Lacey. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Judging by your panic, I don’t think you did this. Just recount it really quick and we’ll review the transactions together.

Overall, the term benefit of the doubt means that someone is assumed honest, or something is assumed true, even though there may be doubts or evidence to the contrary. Someone might be able to give someone the benefit of the doubt if they have proven to be trustworthy in the past, even if there are strange or suspicious circumstances surrounding something.

Sources:

  1. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/believe?s=t
  2. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/doubt?s=t
  3. https://www.theidioms.com/the-benefit-of-the-doubt/#:~:text=It%20means%20that%20the%20person,they%20are%20bound%E2%80%9D%20to%20acquit.
  4. https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/43/messages/882.html