Proscribed and prescribed are two words that are extremely similar to each other and are often confused. They are only different by one letter, and they sound very close to each other. It might be surprising to learn that these words have meanings that are completely opposite.
These two words are not considered to be homophones, but they are spelled similarly enough to confuse a lot of English speakers.
It is important to understand how these two words are different. When you know what they mean and how they are different, you are less likely to get the words confused with each other. Mixing these words up can completely mess up what your sentence means.
The word prescribe is a verb. It means to make rules or instructions clear for other people to follow. To prescribe something means that you are recommending that thing. The most common example of the word prescribe is when a doctor prescribes a medicine to a patient.
This word also means to specify authority or designate something beforehand.
Prescribe originally derives from the word praescribere, Latin, which means to write, dictate, or order.
A lease will end when the prescribed term is over.
The doctor prescribed an antibiotic for the infection.
She quickly prescribed the baby’s instructions for the nanny.
Safety regulations prescribe the use of protective goggles.
Proscribe is a verb and has almost the perfect opposite meaning of the word prescribe. Instead of making rules and instructions TO follow, proscribe is to ban something and make rules of what NOT to follow.
Proscribe has a meaning to forbid something and refer to it as unlawful. Proscribe used to have a legal application in the 15th century. It referred to the act of putting out the name of someone that was outlawed, banished, or condemned.
Speeding is considered proscribed by the law.
They created a list of proscribed citizens and made sure it was seen.
The rules of the union proscribe speaking to any foreman without representation.
The sale of alcohol was proscribed in the United States.
Remembering the Differences
There is a pretty easy trick to help you remember the difference between prescribe and proscribe. While both proscribe and prescribe are verbs, they have very opposite meanings.
To PREscribe something is to recommend something. To PROscribe something is to forbid something.
Pay close attention to the spelling of the words, as they can help you remember when to use each. The word prOscribe has the letter O, just like NO. When something is proscribed, it is basically being told no.
The word prEscribe has the letter E, just like the word YES. When something is prescribed, it is giving advice on how to properly do something.
You can also think of proscribe as similar to prohibit. Prohibit means to ban or forbid, which is similar to proscribe.
PREscribe can be remembered as the doctor REcommending that you take a medication or follow a plan of action.
Prescribe vs. Proscribe
The confusion of these words is understandable. They both have prefixes that mean beforehand or in advance, and they both have the same ending of scribe.
Prescribe is used much more commonly than proscribe. The words are also completely opposite and shouldn’t be confused with each other. Using the wrong word can make a sentence very confusing.
For example, if you say the doctor proscribed medication, you are saying the doctor forbid it.
If you would say that speeding is prescribed by the law, you are basically saying that speeding is encouraged and should be followed.