Word Choice: Device vs. Devise
  • 3-minute read
  • 2nd September 2015

Word Choice: Device vs. Devise

The words “device” and “devise” are both derived from the Old French word deviser, which meant “to arrange a division.” But despite their shared origin, “device” and “devise” are very different in modern English: One is a noun, the other is a verb, and neither is used to describe arranging divisions.

Confused? You’re not the only one. We get plenty of requests for advice about these words, particularly from international students. And it’s important to know the difference between these terms if you want to use them in your academic writing. So we’ve prepared this quick guide to clear things up.

Device (A Gadget)

The primary meaning of the noun “device” is a gadget designed to perform a particular task:

Fred made his millions after inventing a device for eating a taco without making a mess.

In a literary context, a “device” can also be a technique used to achieve a particular effect:

In “Jabberwocky,” Lewis Carroll uses portmanteau as an effective literary device.

The word “device” is also sometimes used in the figure of speech “left to one’s own devices,” meaning to allow someone to do as they please. This is because of an old-fashioned use of the word “device” to mean “scheme.”

Devise (To Plan or Plot)

The verb “devise” is closer to the Old French from which it’s derived, meaning “to come up with a plan”:

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Realizing she wasn’t going to finish her paper on time, Terri devised a new system for tackling her schoolwork.

The only context in which this differs is law, where “devise” is sometimes used as a noun describing either: a) property or land distributed in a will; or b) the act of distributing said property/land. Unless you are writing about law, however, you shouldn’t need to remember this definition.

Device or Devise?

Since these words are generally very different in their modern usage, it’s usually easy to remember which applies in any given situation:

Device (noun) = A gadget

Devise (verb) = Come up with a plan

The tricky one to look out for is when “devise” is used in its legal sense, but this should be easy to spot from the context.

To make absolutely sure you avoid this and similar mix-ups in your work, however, it never hurts to have a professional double-check everything. Why not try sending a 500-word sample to be proofread for free today?

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