Prescribe or Proscribe?

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. correct tick (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. correct tick (Novelist Pankaj Mishra)
    • They are members of a proscribed organization. correct tick
Click to hear how "prescribe" and "proscribe" are pronounced:

prescribe or proscribe?

More about "Prescribe" and "Proscribe"

Prescribe

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

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

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

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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This page was written by Craig Shrives.