Commonly Confused Words: Prey vs. Pray

If you’re studying for a test and you silently ask for divine intervention and guidance, are you praying or preying? Hopefully, you’re praying because preying means something else entirely. Prey and pray are homophones, meaning that they sound alike, but they have very different meanings.

Prey vs. Pray at a Glance

  • Prey is a term for an animal that is hunted and eaten by another animal. The verb preying means the act of hunting and eating. 
  • Pray means to ask for something, usually help. It often, but not always, has a religious connotation. If you’re praying, it may mean that you are communicating with the divine or pleading for help.

When To Use Prey

You’ll use the term prey when discussing the food chain. It can be used as a noun, a verb, and, in certain cases, an adjective. But it almost always revolves around the act of hunting and eating.

Of course, you can also use prey as a metaphor or simile; it’s a way to instantly create the connotation of vulnerability for a group of people. For example, we often talk about scammers preying on the elderly.

Prey Examples

  • Wolves prey on deer and smaller mammals. (hunt and eat)
  • Adult alligators are not prey; there are no animals that can eat them. (animals that are hunted)
  • The lioness stalked her prey silently through the tall grass. (intended target)
  • Social engineering attacks prey on people who don’t understand cybersecurity. (take advantage of)

When To Use Pray

Pray is only used as a verb. When you ask God for something, you are praying, and what you are saying is a prayer. Unlike prey, the word pray is never a noun or an adjective.

Also, pray doesn’t always have a religious context. It can be used in any situation where someone is asking earnestly for something significant.

When somebody prays for something, it emphasizes the importance of what they’re asking for. You might pray to the universe for help on an exam or pray for someone’s forgiveness if you made a big mistake. 

Pray Examples

  • I pray that the traffic will clear up before my meeting. (hope)
  • Heidi prayed that her cat would return home safely. (wish fervently)
  • Before the surgery, Shaun got on his knees to pray for his mother’s successful recovery. (ask a higher power)

How To Remember Pray and Prey

An easy way to remember which word to use is to remember the vowels:

  • Prey has an e, and eating starts with e.
  • Pray has an a, and asking starts with a.

Praying or Preying: Choose Your Words Wisely

When it comes to prey vs. pray, one vowel makes a huge difference. Fortunately, the use cases for each are pretty clear. If you’re hunting something down and eating it, you’re preying. If you’re pleading your case, you’re praying

Ready to hunt down and prey upon more confusing words? Check out our Commonly Confused Words guides to expand your vocabulary!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.