Despite / In Spite Of (English Grammar)

Firstly, the word despite (without ‘in’ or ‘of’) has the same meaning as in spite of. Both words are used for contrast.

Here is a common sentence mistake made by students:

  • Despite he was hungry, John did not eat. (Incorrect)

Why is this incorrect? Because the words despite and in spite of are prepositions, not subordinating conjunctions. This means that after these words, you only need a noun. You cannot put a clause that has a subject and a verb.

Usage #1: Despite / In spite of + noun , main clause

  • Despite his hunger, John did not eat. (Correct = ‘hunger’ is a noun)

If you want to use a subject (“he”) and a verb (“was”), then use a subordinating conjunction such as although/though/even though/while. These words are followed by clauses.

  • Although he was hungry, John did not eat. (Correct)
  • Even though she had a broken arm, she played the game. (Correct)
  • Though the water was cold, we enjoyed swimming. (Correct)

You can use despite or in spite of (they have the same meaning) to express the above ideas. However, you should only use nouns.

  • In spite of his hunger, John did not eat (Correct)
  • Despite her broken arm, she played the game. (Correct)
  • In spite of the temperature of the water, we enjoyed swimming. (Correct)

All of these examples follow this format:

[Despite] / [In spite of] + noun , main clause

This is the standard way to use both in spite of and despite.

Usage #2: Despite / In spite of + Gerund

You can always change a verb (e.g. run) into a noun by changing the verb into the ~ing form (running). A verb in ~ing form that is used as a noun is called a gerund. Because gerunds as treated as nouns, they can come after despite or in spite of. For example:

  • Despite he had no time, he stopped to help.

Incorrect because ‘he had’ begins is a clause.

  • Despite having no time, he stopped to help.

> Correct because ‘having no time’ becomes a gerund phrase. It is not a clause because we have removed the subject ‘he’. Because a gerund is treated as a noun, this follows the despite + noun format.

Here are some more examples of gerund phrases:

  • In spite of we arrived arriving late, we found good seats.
  • Despite he was being angry, he let us in.
  • In spite of we ran running out gas, we arrived on time.
  • Despite he didn’t order not ordering our food correctly, the waiter seemed like a good person. 

Usage #3: Despite / In spite of + the fact (that) + clause

clause has a subject and a verb. There are two clauses in the below sentence:

  • Although I was sick, I took the test.

The first clause ‘Although I was sick’ is a subordinate clause (or dependent clause) which attaches to the main clause ‘I took the test’. As we have learned, we do not use despite or in spite of with a clause.

However, there is a trick. If you use ‘the fact that’, then you can attach a clause after despite or in spite of:

  • Despite I was sick, I took the test. (Incorrect)
  • Despite the fact that I was sick, I took the test. (Correct)
  • In spite of she didn’t like me, she gave me a present. (Incorrect)
  • In spite of the fact that she didn’t like me, she gave me a present. (Correct)

This usage is valid, but a little long. In my opinion, if you want to use a clause, then it’s easier to use a subordinating conjunction like although/though/even though:

  • Even though she didn’t like me, she said hello. 


Summary: Despite / In spite of

  1. Despite and in spite of have the same meaning, (but we do not use ‘in’ or ‘of’ with despite).

  2. The most common usage is this:  Despite / In spite of + noun, main clause

  3. You can use verbs after despite / in spite of if you change them into a gerund (~ing)

  4. You can use a clause after despite / in spite of if you add ‘the fact that’

2 Thoughts to “Despite / In Spite Of (English Grammar)”

  1. TJ Korst

    Most sites, including this one, say that “in spite of” and “despite” are synonyms. And so you can argue this from a descriptive grammatical standpoint.

    But some time ago, a difference separated these two phrases.
    In spite of went from good to bad:
    In spite of having an IQ of 183, she was a horrible chess player.

    Despite went from bad to good:
    Despite arriving 30 minutes late to the exam, she received the highest grade.

    For some of us, the difference still exists.

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