Judge, referee, and umpire



What is the difference between the words "judge," "referee," and "umpire"?

Posted 30 November 2001
"Judge," "referee," and "umpire" have this in common: they are people knowledgeable in their field who make informed decisions about certain situations, and the decisions that they make in each case are the only ones that count. The words are both nouns and verbs. Here are their definitions as nouns based on The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language (Houghton Mifflin, 1996):

A judge is one who judges, especially in a law court, a public official who hears and decides cases brought before a court of law.

Another common meaning for judge is: One who makes estimates as to worth, quality or fitness:a good judge of used cars; a poor judge of character.

A referee is an official who supervises certain games, such as American football and basketball, and British soccer and rugby. This person makes sure that all the rules are followed. You can tell the referee on the American football field because he wears a distinctive black and white striped shirt and white pants. You can tell the referee on the British playing field because he wears a dark shirt and shorts in contrast to the players' bright uniforms.

An umpire, like a referee, supervises in certain games. He, too, makes sure that the game is played fairly and that the rules are not broken. In American baseball, he wears all black or navy. In England, the umpire officiates at cricket games, wearing a long white coat.

In tennis, there are both a referee and an umpire. The umpire is the one who sits on the high stand.

In addition, in American law a referee is an attorney appointed by a court to make a determination of a case or to investigate and report it, and an umpire is a person appointed to settle an issue that arbitrators are unable to resolve.

Here's a note on language usage: In all of the pronoun references to "referee" and "umpire" above, I used "he," although I am certainly aware that I could refer to female referees and umpires as well, and use feminine pronouns, too. As you know, the English language doesn't have a singular pronoun to include both male and female persons, so we have to write "he/she" or "he or she." While this inclusive type of pronoun reference would be correct, it seems awkward here and is actually hypercorrect. (I could also have used plural nouns with "they" as referent, but I preferred the singular in these definitions.) So this time I used "he." At another time, I'll use "she." We certainly do need a pronoun in the English language that refers to an individual of either gender.

Return to the Key Word Index