Prescribe or Proscribe?

by Craig Shrives

Prescribe or Proscribe?

What is the difference between "prescribe" and "proscribe"?
  • "To 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.)
  • "To proscribe" means to forbid.
    • France has effectively proscribed religion from public life. (Novelist Pankaj Mishra)
    • They are members of a proscribed organization.
prescribe or proscribe?

More about "Prescribe" and "Proscribe"

The words "prescribe" or "proscribe" sound similar, but their meanings are quite different.

Prescribe

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.

Proscribe

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.")
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

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? cannot or can not? who's or whose? What are prepositions? What are verbs? List of easily confused words