Glossary Home Idioms

Benefit of the doubt

“Benefit of the doubt” is used to refer to a situation in which one person is willing to give another a chance before judging them.

“Benefit of the doubt” is a common English phrase that has an unclear origin, but likely dates back to at least the 1800s.  One can use the phrase to suggest they’re willing to believe what another is saying but aren’t completely convinced it’s the truth. 

Benefit of the doubt meaning


Meaning of “Benefit of the doubt” 

If someone chooses to give another the “benefit of the doubt” they’re deciding to give that person time to explain themselves before passing judgment. They’re withholding their opinion until there is more information available. One might use it when they’re willing to imagine, equally, the good and the bad in a situation or in another person, or if they decide to believe what someone is saying even though they aren’t completely convinced of it. Another more serious application concerns the use of the phrase in regard to the law and whether or not someone committed a crime. An investigator might give a suspect the benefit of the doubt for a time while they continue their search. 



The origins of “benefit of the doubt” are unknown.

This is not unusual with phrases such as this, especially considering how widely used it is today. Some believe the first use of contemporary wording appeared in the 1800s, something that would line up with the vast majority of idioms and proverbs used today. There are also suggestions that the phrase, or a version of it, originated in a legal system, perhaps in Ireland. But, there is no solid evidence to support this opinion or any other. Like most phrases, this one likely evolved naturally over time rather than appearing after one person had a particularly original turn of phrase.


When to Use “Benefit of the doubt”

It’s possible to use “benefit of the doubt” in a wide array of situations.

It’s a very common phrase and is easily used in conversations between family, friends, colleagues, and professionals. A few possible uses include two friends who might use the phrase when discussing something that happened to them, one co-worker who could use it to describe another’s actions or a wife who might use it to give her husband a chance to explain himself. There are many more possible situations in which “benefit of the doubt” can be worked into a conversation. 


Examples of Sentences

  • We have to give her the benefit of the doubt. 
  • I gave him the benefit of the doubt and then regretted it. 
  • If you’re not going to even thinking about giving them the benefit of the doubt, what are you doing here? 
  • It’s only right that he gives her the benefit of the doubt in this situation. 
  • The world’s a complicated place, it’s only right that we give one another the benefit of the doubt from time to time. 


Why Do Writers Use “Benefit of the doubt?” 

Writers use “benefit of the doubt” in the same way and for the same reasons that it’s used in everyday conversations with men, women, and children.

The phrase is quite simple and easy to work into a wide variety of situations. It can be used more seriously or more humorously, as noted above. One writer might choose to work the phrase into the written dialogue between two characters who are considering a complex situation. One might say they’re interested in giving the other the “benefit of the doubt.” It’s also quite easy to imagine how one might find this phrase in a courtroom, within a legal proceeding of any kind, or a criminal investigation. 


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