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How Does “q.v.” Differ from “cf.”? — The Answer

How Does “q.v.” Differ from “cf.”? — The Answer

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Even among people who do not speak English as their first language, English is often their second or third language.

Many organizations use English as a common language because it tends to be widely spoken and understood.

However, if you were living anywhere in the Roman Empire around 2000 years ago, which included virtually all of Europe plus Western Asia and North Africa, Latin would have been the language that played this role.

Today, Latin is a dead language although many other modern languages evolved from it.

English still uses many Latin phrases, especially in formal contexts, such as government, law and academia. The abbreviations q.v. and cf. come from Latin, and we’ll explain to you below how to use them both with confidence!

What is the meaning of q.v.?

The abbreviation “q.v.” comes from the Latin phrase “quod vide,” and it refers you to more information that should be looked up elsewhere, usually in the same document that you are currently reading.

What is the meaning of cf.?

The abbreviation “cf.” comes from the Latin word “confer,” and it invites you to compare other information that is usually in a different document or text than the one you are looking at.

What is the difference between q.v. and cf.?

The biggest difference in q.v. and cf. is that q.v. is generally used to refer to material in the same document while cf. is used to refer to material elsewhere. Another difference is that cf. is more explicit about making a comparison while q.v. simply refers to more information.

A contemporary example of q.v. and cf.

The easiest way to conceptualize these abbreviations and understand why they are so useful is to think about reading something on the internet.

Have you ever been reading an article online and clicked on a hyperlink within the article to find out more about something?

For example, maybe you are reading an article about traveling in France, and there is a hyperlink on the words “cooking schools.” You click on it because you are interested in finding out about attending a cooking school in France.

When you do this, you are really experiencing the contemporary version of “q.v.” and “cf.” In other words, a link is basically saying to you, “Go here if you want to learn more information about this topic.”

The phrases “q.v.” and “cf.” are still used today in formal writing, and they are really just old-fashioned versions of links created long before anyone dreamed that the internet would someday exist.

Background of q.v.

The Latin phrase “quod vide,” from which q.v. is taken, literally means “which see.”

If this seems confusing, keep in mind that literal translations can seem a little confusing.

In this case, it is because you need a few more words in English to get a more understandable phrase. Think of it as “which [you can] see [here].”

Another way to look at it is that it means “see here” or “go here to see more.”

When would you use q.v.?

You would use q.v. when you want to point your reader to supporting data elsewhere in the text or to let them know that somewhere else in the text, you have addressed at a greater length the topic that you are only mentioning briefly.

This lets you provide your reader with some optional information if they choose to pursue it, but you don’t have to get bogged down in a distraction from your main point or repeat yourself.

Examples of q.v.

This abbreviation can look a little bit confusing when you encounter it in text because unlike other in-text citations, it does not always specifically direct you to where you can find the information.

Usually, it is simply placed in parentheses after the relevant subject:

They were deep in the Okefenokee Swamp (q.v.) when the storm hit.

What you know from this is that the source you are reading has more elsewhere on the Okefenokee Swamp.

As the reader, it is expected that you can find this on your own. This is usually the case in a reference work where different topics are clearly labeled.

However, sometimes it will be stated a little more clearly:

The two languages are mutually intelligible by most native speakers as discussed in section 15 (q.v.).

Note that q.v. does not always refer to a proper noun. It can be any subject that is treated elsewhere in the text at a greater length:

Food historians report that pasta (q.v) was found throughout Italy in the Middle Ages.

The abbreviation q.v., unlike cf., does not take an object in a sentence.

Background of cf.

The Latin word “confer,” which cf. comes from, means to bring together.

This is where the idea of comparison comes in. When you compare, you put two things side by side, either literally or figuratively, and see how they are similar or different.

When would you use cf.?

You can use cf. both when you are suggesting other material to your reader that supports your point and when you are suggesting other material that presents an opposing or just a different point of view.

If you are reading a legal document, such as a brief, cf. has a very specific meaning.

In that context, it means that the source cited is making a different claim but not one that is contradictory to the main point, and it might actually support the point.

However, outside of this specific situation, you can generally assume that cf. is telling you something like “see here for comparison.”

Examples of cf.

In contrast to q.v., cf. may or may not include specifics on how to find the information that you are seeking.

For example, in the sentence below, cf. is specific about the reference. This would be in a paper that probably includes a bibliography you could consult to get the full information about the reference:

Wilson (2015) argued that intervention only made the crisis worse (cf. Brown, 2005).

Another way to use it is in referencing a particular work:

This was not the position taken by Jones in cf. “Ban All Cars.”

Unlike q.v., note that cf. does take an object. In other words, it needs to be followed by the piece it is referring the reader to.

What if I don’t know whether to use q.v. or cf.?

The abbreviations q.v. and cf. are almost interchangeable in most contexts.

There may be situations in which you aren’t sure which one you should use.

You might want to just provide someone with more information, but the source you want to send them to is another document.

Similarly, you may want them to do more of a comparison with information that you have within the document itself.

If you find yourself in a situation like this when you are writing, the deciding factor should usually be whether you are pointing them to information in the same document or a different text.

Don’t get too worried about whether you are directing them to “compare” or simply to “see.”

If it is in the same document, you can use q.v. If you are sending them to a different document, you can use cf.

Another solution in this situation is to use the English: “see,” “see here” or even “compare with.”