Refer vs. Recommend
Written by
Maria Murnane
June 2012
Written by
Maria Murnane
June 2012

I watched a movie the other night in which a revered contagious disease specialist facing a lethal epidemic delivered a line to a nervous patient that made my own skin crawl. It was something along the lines of: "That's not my area of expertise, but I'll refer a doctor."

Ugh. Apparently no one is immune to bad grammar, not even the upper echelon of Hollywood scriptwriters.

Refer and recommend have different meanings:

Refer is to direct to a source for help or information. You refer a person to something, and this action constitutes a referral.

Recommend is to endorse. You recommend something to a person, and this action constitutes a recommendation.

Here are some examples of correct usage:

The doctor referred his patient to a specialist.

  • The doctor recommended a specialist to his patient.
  • My doctor gave me a referral to see a specialist.
  • My doctor's recommendation to see that specialist saved my life.
  • Can anyone refer me to a good realtor in Los Angeles?
  • Can anyone recommend a good realtor in Los Angeles?
  • My yoga teacher referred my mom to an amazing acupuncturist.
  • My yoga teacher recommended an amazing acupuncturist to my mom.

People often get these usages mixed up, which is understandable, but if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, it's important to know the difference. After all, you want people to recommend your work to their friends, just as you want your friends to refer you to great ways to promote your work.


Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the romantic comedies Perfect on Paper and It's a Waverly Life. Her third novel, Honey on Your Mind, will be released in July 2012. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at

This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2012 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Sarah Byrne

    "Affect" and "Effect" brings out a similar reaction in me. However, I don't really feel I can complain to much as my writing technique seems to consist on bunging everything down onto paper (or screen) as fast as I can grammer be damned! editing, as you can imagine, is a nightmare.

  • Zoe Brooks

    I was only a few minutes ago writing a comment on another website about British versus American words and grammar. One area of difference is that Americans are reluctant to use plural verbs and pronouns with such words as audience in situations where we Brits readily do so. It's a real problem for British writers of e-books who get bad reviews from American reviewers for their "bad" grammar.

  • Nancy Miller

    Very good distinction, Sharon, and duly noted!

  • Sharon D. Dillon

    I can agree with all of those grammar pet peeves. While I understand Nancy's use of "talk to" and "talk with," I would like to respectfully disagree. To me, and this is my personal issue, "talk to" seems to be a one-way conversation, giving direction. "Talk with" implies discussion.

  • Karoline Barrett

    So many grammar pet peeves and so little time. Great article.

  • Nancy Miller

    Oh, God, the "theres" drive me nuts too: there (as in "over there" refers (not refurrs) to geographical placement); they're is your contraction for "they are," and "their" is the possessive form, as in "Their house is on fire." Or, you can say, "They're going over there to see their new car." Then you get to use all three!

    I think too, "to discuss" is a verb that is acceptable, and to have a discussion is the noun. A comparison is: He's going to talk to her." Rather than "he's going to have a talk with her." To talk is the infinitive, and the verb; to have a talk is the noun. I hope I'm not rambling here today...

  • Ava Bleu

    Thanks, Nancy.  It's nice to have a professional in the house.

    Virginia, it just registered what you said.   You only found one wrong "there"? I'm in the wrong crowd--I get my "there's" mixed up at least twice a day like I take my vitamins.

  • Nancy Miller

    I have a lit emphasis, too, Ava, but this could be fun to research further. I believe it's appropriate to say "let's discuss Billy's bullying behavior in class," but now you've got me going and I'll check this out. After I read the 34 papers in front of me today! (Ugh.)

  • Ava Bleu

    LOL--I never even noticed and now I'll pay attention everytime someone uses "refer" or "recommend". 

    My difficulty is "discuss".  Let's preface this by saying I'm a English Lit major, not an English writing major so excuse me if this is elementary, but it always bothers me.  You don't discuss something, you have a discussion related to an issue--am I wrong?  You wouldn't say: "Let's discuss Bobbie's behaviour", you'd say "Let's have a discussion about Bobbie's behaviour", right?  (OMG--did I just spell "behaviour like a British person, or is that how we spell it, too)? 

    This is why I try not to think about what I write too much ... I'd never get anything writ ;-). 

    (P.S.--that was intentional.)

  • Virginia Llorca

    I use "gonna" and "cuz" all the time.  "Cos" for because irritates me. I guess it depends on what kind of image you want to/wanna get across to the reader. Most of this stuff doesn't bother me.  I found a wrong "there" in a read of a draft and I liked to die.  We call my daughter "Gertie the Grammarian" and she is a nurse, not a teacher or linguist.

  • Nancy Miller

    Ha! You see, kids? Refurred has other meanings that are significant to dog lovers!

    But yes, this drives me insane, too, Emily. It gets cumbersome to keep saying "he or she" and using only plurals is not always appropriate, either, but you're right that it creates a pronoun antecedent agreement issue. If you say "driver," then you do need to say "he or she" if you are referring (not refurring) back to him. Or them.

    Oh, shoot me now! Why didn't I go into real estate when I had the chance!

  • Emily Kennedy

    I have read that grammar rules have changed, but in the byline to this story, the writer uses "coworker" and the pronoun "their" together.  Also "driver" and "their."  I know "he or she" is tedious, but the third person plural is plural.  I just can't embrace this current acceptance of "their."  It drives me nuts.  Sorry!

  • S. Connell Vondrak

    Yeah! And, don't even start with the miss use of refurred. As my dog really needs to be refurred

  • Nancy Miller

    This really speaks, Maria, to how imprecise our language is becoming. As an English instructor, I've always seen my role as being that of a guardian of civilization, so to speak, so this is a subject close to my heart. We do use words interchangeably and they of course are not. Even words that are similar in meaning are not identical. To describe the "cat's eyes as gleaming," and the "cat's eyes as shining" are different descriptions, though they are similar. Gleaming evokes associations to hunting or stalking, perhaps, as the cat's eyes gleam when they spot a mouse. Shining has a more lyrical connotation and evokes images of being wide awake in the moonlight, maybe, or the look a cat has when she is being stroked.

    Being precise in choosing the best word for one's purpose is paramount for writers! Great topic.