definition of refers by The Free Dictionary



v. re·ferred, re·fer·ring, re·fers

1. To direct to a source for help or information: referred her to a heart specialist; referred me to his last employer for a recommendation.

2. To submit (a matter in dispute) to an authority for arbitration, decision, or examination.

3. To direct the attention of: I refer you to the training manual.


a. To assign or attribute to; regard as originated by.

b. To assign to or regard as belonging within a particular kind or class: referred the newly discovered partita to the 1600s. See Synonyms at attribute.


a. To relate or pertain; concern: questions referring to yesterday’s lecture.

b. To serve as a descriptor or have as a denotation: The word chair refers to a piece of furniture.

2. To speak or write about something briefly or incidentally; make reference: referred during our conversation to several books he was reading.

3. To turn one’s attention, as in seeking information: refer to a dictionary.

[Middle English referren, from Old French referer, from Latin referre : re-, re- + ferre, to carry; see bher- in Indo-European roots.]

ref′er·a·ble (rĕf′ər-ə-bəl, rĭ-fûr′-) adj.

re·fer′ral n.

re·fer′rer n.

Usage Note: Some people consider the phrase refer back to be redundant, since refer contains the prefix re-, which was brought into English from Latin and originally meant “back.” But such an argument is based on what linguists call the “etymological fallacy”—the assumption that the meaning of a word should always reflect the meanings of the words, roots, and affixes from which it was derived. In fact, most words change their meanings over time, often to the point where their historical roots are completely obscured. Such change is natural and usually goes unnoticed except by scholars. We conduct inaugurations without consulting soothsayers (augurs), and we don’t necessarily share bread (pānis in Latin) with our companions. In fact, refer is quite often used in contexts that don’t involve the meaning “back” at all, as in The doctor referred her patient to a specialist or Please refer to this menu of our daily specials. As for refer back, the Usage Panel’s position has shifted dramatically over the years. In 1995, 65 percent of the Panel disapproved of this construction, but by 2011, 81 percent accepted it in the sentence To answer your question it is necessary to refer back to the minutes of the previous meeting. In such cases, where the “back” meaning of re- has largely disappeared, adding back can provide useful semantic information, indicating that the person or thing being referred to has been mentioned or consulted before. The Panel remains somewhat less tolerant of constructions like revert back, in which the verb retains the sense “back” as part of its meaning: in 2011, 67 percent accepted revert back in the sentence After his divorce he seemed to revert back to his adolescence. In this context, back may simply be used to provide emphasis, perhaps suggesting a greater step backward than the verb by itself would. In any case, the prevalence of phrases that combine back and words prefixed with re- indicates that such constructions are a robust feature of English, even if they do appear to be logically redundant.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.



vb (often foll by to) , -fers, -ferring or -ferred

1. (intr) to make mention (of)

2. (tr) to direct the attention of (someone) for information, facts, etc: the reader is referred to Chomsky, 1965.

3. (intr) to seek information (from): I referred to a dictionary of English usage; he referred to his notes.

4. (intr) to be relevant (to); pertain or relate (to): this song refers to an incident in the Civil War.

5. (tr) to assign or attribute: Cromwell referred his victories to God.

6. (tr) to hand over for consideration, reconsideration, or decision: to refer a complaint to another department.

7. (tr) to hand back to the originator as unacceptable or unusable

8. (Education) (tr) Brit to fail (a student) in an examination

9. (Education) (tr) Brit to send back (a thesis) to a student for improvement

10. (Banking & Finance) refer to drawer a request by a bank that the payee consult the drawer concerning a cheque payable by that bank (usually because the drawer has insufficient funds in his account), payment being suspended in the meantime

11. (Medicine) (tr) to direct (a patient) for treatment to another doctor, usually a specialist

12. (Social Welfare) (tr) social welfare to direct (a client) to another agency or professional for a service

[C14: from Latin referre to carry back, from re- + ferre to bear1]

referable, referrable adj

reˈferral n

reˈferrer n

Usage: The common practice of adding back to refer is tautologous, since this meaning is already contained in the re- of refer: this refers to (not back to) what has already been said. However, when refer is used in the sense of passing a document or question for further consideration to the person from whom it was received, it may be appropriate to say he referred the matter back

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014



v. -ferred, -fer•ring. v.t.

1. to direct to a person, place, etc., for information or anything required.

2. to direct the attention of: The asterisk refers the reader to a footnote.

3. to submit for decision, information, etc.: to refer a dispute to arbitration.

4. to assign to a class, period, etc.; classify.

5. to have relation; relate; apply.


6. to direct attention.

7. to have recourse, as for aid or information.

8. to make reference or allusion.

[1325–75; Middle English referren referre to bring back =re- re– + ferre to bring, bear1]

ref•er•a•ble, re•fer•ra•ble (ˈrɛf ər ə bəl, rɪˈfɜr-) adj.

re•fer′rer, n.

Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

allude, refer – To allude is to “mention indirectly, hint at,” and to refer is to “mention directly.”

See also related terms for hint.

Farlex Trivia Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.


Past participle: referred
Gerund: referring

I refer
you refer
he/she/it refers
we refer
you refer
they refer
I referred
you referred
he/she/it referred
we referred
you referred
they referred
Present Continuous
I am referring
you are referring
he/she/it is referring
we are referring
you are referring
they are referring
Present Perfect
I have referred
you have referred
he/she/it has referred
we have referred
you have referred
they have referred
Past Continuous
I was referring
you were referring
he/she/it was referring
we were referring
you were referring
they were referring
Past Perfect
I had referred
you had referred
he/she/it had referred
we had referred
you had referred
they had referred
I will refer
you will refer
he/she/it will refer
we will refer
you will refer
they will refer
Future Perfect
I will have referred
you will have referred
he/she/it will have referred
we will have referred
you will have referred
they will have referred
Future Continuous
I will be referring
you will be referring
he/she/it will be referring
we will be referring
you will be referring
they will be referring
Present Perfect Continuous
I have been referring
you have been referring
he/she/it has been referring
we have been referring
you have been referring
they have been referring
Future Perfect Continuous
I will have been referring
you will have been referring
he/she/it will have been referring
we will have been referring
you will have been referring
they will have been referring
Past Perfect Continuous
I had been referring
you had been referring
he/she/it had been referring
we had been referring
you had been referring
they had been referring
I would refer
you would refer
he/she/it would refer
we would refer
you would refer
they would refer
Past Conditional
I would have referred
you would have referred
he/she/it would have referred
we would have referred
you would have referred
they would have referred

Collins English Verb Tables © HarperCollins Publishers 2011

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