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Devil’s Advocate | Meaning, Definition & Examples

Idioms updated on  January 9, 2024 2 min read
The idiom devil’s advocate refers to a person who argues against the popular opinion of a group to foster discussion. This person doesn’t have to believe in what they are arguing; rather, they will argue for the purpose of presenting a new point of view.

The term was first used in the 1500s, when the church would appoint someone to argue against a canonization candidate. The “advocatus diaboli,” or devil’s advocate, would try to find holes in stories about a candidate’s character and their supposed miracles. This would allow the church to have a well-rounded view of the candidate during the decision-making process.

Examples: “Devil’s advocate” in a sentence
She played the devil’s advocate by arguing that animals in pet shelters need to be put down.
Paul is annoying because he’s always playing devil’s advocate.
The devil’s advocate in me wants to argue against everything you’re saying.

How to use “devil’s advocate”

“Devil’s advocate” is a noun used to describe a contrary position someone is taking. As an idiom, “devil’s advocate” doesn’t literally refer to someone who is advocating for the devil, but someone who is arguing against a popular notion.

You use “devil’s advocate” when describing someone who is picking holes in an argument or bringing up a train of thought that directly conflicts with common opinion (e.g., “She is playing devil’s advocate”).

The phrase “devil’s advocate” is usually preceded by the verb “playing” (e.g., “Randy is playing devil’s advocate”) or by “playing” + “the” (e.g., “My teacher loves to play the devil’s advocate”).

Examples: “Devil’s advocate” in a sentence
My friend always plays the devil’s advocate; he can never agree with me.
Playing the devil’s advocate is immature, in my opinion.
Sally played the devil’s advocate by arguing against wearing a seatbelt.

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


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Rhetoric

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Honor or honour

Onomatopoeia

Participles

Practise or practice

Palindrome

Intransitive verbs

Color or colour

Anachronism

Simple past tense

Toward or towards

Portmanteau

Regular verbs

Behaviour or behavior

Paradox

Past progressive


Frequently asked questions about "devil's advocate"

What does it mean to play devil’s advocate?

If you are playing the devil’s advocate, you are intentionally taking the side of the opposition to foster debate and offer a dissenting point of view.

What is a synonym for devil’s advocate?

Some synonyms and near synonyms for devil’s advocate include:

  • Contrarian
  • Debater
  • Disputant
  • Arguer

When should I use devil’s advocate?

You would use “devil’s advocate” when referring to someone who holds a contrarian viewpoint and actively shares a differing opinion.

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Paige Pfeifer

Paige teaches QuillBot writers about grammar rules and writing conventions. She has a BA in English, which she received by reading and writing a lot of fiction. That is all she knows how to do.

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