Prescribe or Proscribe?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Prescribe" and "Proscribe"?

"Prescribe" and "proscribe" are easy to confuse because they sound so similar (i.e., they are nearly homonyms). Additionally, "proscribe" has the prefix "pro" (which usually means "supportive of"), so it feels like a positive word. However, "proscribe" means "to forbid," which expresses negativity.
  • "Prescribe" means to recommend or to authorize.
    • The critic should describe and not prescribe. (Playwright Eugene Ionesco)
    • (Here, "prescribe" means recommend.)
    • In the future, we might not prescribe drugs all the time. We might prescribe apps. (Inventor Daniel Kraft)
    • ("Prescribe" is often used in a medical context, e.g., to prescribe antibiotics. It is commonly seen as a noun, e.g., a doctor's prescription.)
  • "Proscribe" means to forbid.
    • France has effectively proscribed religion from public life. (Novelist Pankaj Mishra)
    • They are members of a proscribed organization.
Click to hear how "prescribe" and "proscribe" are pronounced:

prescribe or proscribe?

More about "Prescribe" and "Proscribe"


The verb "to prescribe" means to recommend or to authorize.

Example sentences with "prescribe":
  • I have prescribed you a course of antibiotics.
  • The law prescribes a minimum of 10 years' incarceration for your offence.


The verb "to proscribe" means to forbid, to limit, or to banish.

Example sentences with "proscribe":
  • These photos are worthless. Such images are proscribed by law.
  • Police have been tracking three members of the group, which was proscribed in the 1980s.
  • Name one country that does not proscribe theft.
The past participle form "proscribed" is commonly used as an adjective. For example:
  • These right- and left-wing groups are now proscribed organizations.

In this case, "pro" is bad!

"Proscribe" causes confusion because many do not expect a word that starts with "pro" to have such a negative meaning. (As a preposition and a prefix, "pro" often means "for" or "supportive of.")
"Proscribe" is a rare word.

"Prescribe" is a common word. "Proscribe" is a rare word. [evidence]

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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? pled guilty or pleaded guilty? who's or whose? What are prepositions? List of easily confused words

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