Easily Confused Words: Prey vs. Pray

Prey and pray are homophones and easily confused words. The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch it if the writer used one word, but actually meant to use the other. Spell-check merely looks for words that it doesn’t have in its own dictionary, and words that have misplaced letters.

Prey is a verb. In the wild, it means to hunt and kill for food.

In the realm of human behavior, preying on someone can refer to cannibalism, but it rarely does. Instead, it refers to trickery. One party is deceiving, misleading, manipulating, or cheating the other to gain money, status, or something else he or she wants.

Prey can also be a noun, meaning the creature, the plant, or the object that will be consumed for food. In human behavior, the one being deceived.

Prey can also be an adjective, as in the phrase “Birds of Prey.” Examples of Birds of Prey, or raptors, include hunting, meat-eating birds like eagles, hawks, owls, falcons, ospreys/seahawks, and vultures/buzzards.

Pray is a verb. It means to speak to a deity to request help, to express gratitude and respect, or a little of both. People pray to a god, or gods, they elicit the help of saints and angels. Some pray to deceased family members and ancestors who have joined the deity’s realm or one like it.

The following sentence uses both words correctly:

When people pray, the assume that only benevolent gods hear it, not gods who could prey upon them in their hour of need and make things worse.

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