Reference, Referee or Referent?

If you receive a job offer and accept it, you might be asked to give your reference/references’ names and contact details so that a reference check can be done. Are you confused by the words “reference”, “referee” and “referent”? Read on to clear up your confusion…

REFERENCE [‘ref(ə)r(ə)n(t)s]

In terms of employment, “reference” has a few meanings:

  1. A letter that is written by someone who knows you and which describes your character and abilities: We kindly ask you for more references. Your last employer should give you a reference.
  2. A person who gives you a reference (mainly American English): I asked my ex-colleague to be my reference. Your references shouldn’t overstate your skills.

REFEREE [ˌref(ə)’riː]

“Referee” usually means a person who controls a sport event, that is a kind of judge. However, it can be used in employment contexts:

  1. A person who gives you a reference (mainly British English): Don’t make a mistake choosing your referee. Make sure your referee is ready to answer phone calls or emails about you. 

REFERENT [ˈref.ər.ənt]

“Referent” is a linguistic term. It means an object, person, event, concept etc. referred to by a term or expression. For example, in the sentence My dog is in the room, the referent of “my dog” is the particular dog owned by me, while the referent of “the room” is the room where the dog is.

So, don’t use the word “referent” if you mean a person who provides a reference letter or if you mean this kind of letter.