Easily Confused Words: Persecute vs. Prosecute

Persecute and prosecute are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted, or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Persecute (pronounced “purr-sih-kewt”) is a verb. It means to punish severely, or to target someone (or a group) repeatedly with abuse.

Prosecute (pronounced “praw-sih-kewt”) is a verb.

  • It can mean bringing formal charges of lawbreaking to court. In trials, the prosecution is the accuser, and the defense is the one being accused.
  • It can also mean to enforce by legal process.
  • It can also mean taking a major effort from start to completion. (I don’t hear this use often.)

The following story uses both words correctly:

Priscilla wanted to create a hate crime law in her state; it didn’t currently have one. While harassment and assault were illegal in her state, but the motivations behind these crimes often went unexamined. The state didn’t prosecute perpetrators as harshly when it was assumed the crime was random, not premeditated.

Recently, Priscilla has seen too many minority groups being persecuted in her community. These persons often had little means for legal recourse. These people were being targeted too frequently in these events for it to be mere coincidence. These events did not receive the media’s attention or respect when they happened compared to more affluent people. Something had to be done.

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