Let’s look at the differences between pray and prey with Grammar Rules from the Writer’s Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.
This week’s grammar rules post brings us face to face with a couple homophones: Pray and prey. One word means to make a request and/or to communicate with a deity; the other refers to being the object of a predator or acting as a predator.
So let’s look at the differences between pray and prey and when to use each.
Pray vs. Prey
Pray is a verb that refers to the act of making a request or a plea of someone. It also refers to communicating with a deity in the spiritual act of prayer.
Prey, on the other hand, can be used as a verb or noun. As a noun, prey refers to an animal taken as food by a predatory animal (a chipmunk might be the prey of an owl, for instance), or it can refer to a victim in general (like a person falling prey to a scam). As a verb, prey refers to what a predator (whether wolf or wolf-like person*) does upon its victims. As such, predators actually prey on their prey.
Here are a few examples of pray and prey:
Correct: She likes to pray before she goes to sleep.
Incorrect: She likes to prey before she goes to sleep.
Correct: As a con artist, he usually preys on tourists who don’t suspect his scams.
Incorrect: As a con artist, he usually prays on tourists who don’t suspect his scams.
Keeping these two homophones straight is as easy as using hand signals. For instance, touching only the five tips of your fingers on both hands together makes an “A” with your hands and looks a bit like how some (though not all) people pray. Meanwhile, if you make an “E” with the middle three fingers of both your hands, it looks a bit like teeth or claws that might be used by a predator to prey upon its prey.
(*I just want to take a moment to apologize to wolves for singling them out as predators. Of course, there are many predators on this planet, but I guess they fell prey to my whims for this particular post. I pray for their forgiveness in making them the example this time around.)
No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.