“‘Presume’? How you like I ‘presume’ to throw you in the river? You like that ‘presume’?”—Jon Voight, with his incomparable, Oscar-worthy Paraguayan accent in the glorious Anaconda
This week, we examine the difference between presume and assume.
Writers commonly encounter confusion when trying to decide between using presume or assume. Both verbs derive from the same Latin root sumere—which means “to take”—and the distinction between them is nuanced but important. Let’s look at their definitions:
1) to take something for granted, or to suppose something on the basis of probability or lack of evidence to the contrary
2) to take liberties or be bold enough to do something on a seemingly unwarranted basis
1) to suppose something without proof
2) to take something on, often responsibility or power
Both words involve supposing something or taking something on, but the distinction between presume and assume boils down to degrees of certainty or audacity. Presume finds its basis in a strong proof or boldness that underlies the action being taken. Assume doesn’t operate with this level of nerve: in other words, assume doesn’t presume.