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Grammar and Disagreements

Grammar and Disagreements
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Consider almost any social or political issue. It could be local or international.

Some people have one idea about the issue, and other people have other ideas about the issue. In other words, people disagree with each other.

In this week’s Everyday Grammar, we will explore disagreements. We will learn about the verb, disagree, and the noun form, disagreement. We will learn some important ideas about how to use the terms.

Let’s start with some history.


When we explore individual words, we often look at their histories. Words – like people – grow and change over time. By learning a little about these changes, we can make words more memorable and meaningful to us.

So, let’s take a look at the verb “disagree.”

Disagree first appeared in English over 500 years ago. The Online Etymology Dictionary tell us that disagree first meant “refuse assent to.” It came from an Old French word desagreer, a word that we can break into two parts. Des- meant “not, opposite of” and agreer meant “to please; satisfy.” In English, you might think of these two parts as dis- and agree.

With time, disagree took on new meanings. About 450 years ago, it took on the meaning of differing in opinion, or expressing differing views, the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us.

Some time later, we have the birth of the noun form disagreement.


We have followed disagree from its beginning. But how do we explain its modern usage?

One important idea is that we generally use disagree without an object. So, for example, you might say a simple, complete sentence such as this:

I disagree.

Or you might say this:

The two sides disagree.

But what about more complex sentences, you might ask? Internet data sources can give us some important information about how to do that.

Google’s Ngram Viewer contains data from many written materials. We can do a careful study of exact words.

What Google’s Ngram Viewer tells us is that by far the most commonly used word after the verb disagree is the word “with.” After the word “with,” we generally have a pronoun, noun, or noun phrase.

So, for example, you might hear or read a sentence that involves a pronoun after “with,” as in:

I disagree with you.

You might hear or read a sentence that has a noun after "with," as in:

He disagrees with Tom.

Or you might hear or read a sentence that has a noun phrase after “with,” as in:

They disagree with these ideas.


We disagree with the prime minister’s policies.

What about the noun disagreement, you might ask?

Google’s Ngram Viewer tells us that once again, the word “with” is commonly used after the noun disagreement. So, you might hear or read the following:

He had a disagreement with his friend.

And what words might we use before the noun disagreement? Google’s Ngram Viewer tells us we are more likely to hear or read the short word “a,” as in “a disagreement,” So, you might hear a person say:

They had a disagreement.


You may have noticed a difference between how we explored disagree and disagreement. We explored words that commonly come before and after disagreement, but we only explored a word that comes after the verb disagree. We did not explore the most common word that comes before disagree. Aside from pronouns, can you guess what the most common word is before the verb disagree?

Here is a hint: think about one short word that we often use before a verb in English.

Write us your answer in the comments section on our website or in an email to

I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

assent – n. to agree to or approve of something (such as an idea or suggestion)