'Pray' vs 'Prey': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on July 15, 2023

‘Pray’ vs ‘Prey’: What’s the Difference? Two identical-sounding words with entirely different meanings and parts of speech — definitely not a good idea to get these mixed up. Let this article be your guide to keeping these words clear in your mind so you don’t become prey to your vocabulary. 

In a hurry? Here is a quick overview of what’s to come: 

  • ‘Pray’ is a term often found in religious contexts when communicating with a higher power
  • ‘Prey’ is a term describing the food of a predator, typically in the animal kingdom

What’s the Difference Between ‘Pray’ vs ‘Prey’?

Fortunately, there are a lot of things that distinguish these words from each other, which makes them much easier to learn and keep separate. Aside from their definitions, which will be covered in more detail later, there are a handful of things that distinguish these words. 

First, they belong to two entirely different parts of speech. ‘Pray’ is primarily a verb, meaning it describes an action. Meanwhile, ‘Prey’ is primarily a noun describing a thing. 

  • Note that it is possible for ‘Prey’ to be a verb, but you are more likely to encounter it as a noun, so for the sake of ease, it is best to remember it as a thing. 

Second, the words are obviously spelled differently. This is only useful, though, when you can read them, so it’s best not to rely on this difference all the time.

Nonetheless, here’s a helpful hint to identify the words using spelling: 

  • ‘Prey’ is a term for things that usually get eaten, so if you remember the “e” in ‘Prey’ connects to ‘eat’ you can match the spelling to the definition. This also, by process of elimination, means ‘Pray’ is the other meaning. 

Finally, the two words will rarely appear in the same context, let alone the same sentence, so they should be easier to keep apart when you hear or read them. But when would these words be used in a sentence or in conversation? Let’s take a closer look at these new words. 

Definition of ‘Pray’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Pray’ is a verb that means: 

  • Address a solemn request or expression of thanks to a deity or other object of worship
    • “the whole family will pray for Mike.”
  • Wish or hope strongly for a particular outcome or situation
    • “After several days of rain, we are praying for the sun.”

‘Pray’ can also be an adverb that is: 

  • Used as a preface to polite requests or instructions
    • “pray continue”
  • Used as a way of adding ironic or sarcastic emphasis to a question
    • “And what, pray, was the purpose of that?”

Note that the adverb form of ‘Pray’ is viewed as a much more antiquated form but is not uncommon in historical works of both fiction and nonfiction. 

Synonyms for ‘Pray’

  • Plead
  • Beseech
  • Ask
  • Implore
  • Recite
  • Urge 
  • Adjure
  • Entreat

Antonyms of ‘Pray’

  • Condemn
  • Refuse
  • Blame
  • Castigate
  • Denounce
  • Answer

Phrases with ‘Pray’

  • Pray for me
  • Pray tell
  • Say a prayer
  • Let us pray 
  • Go in prayer

Definition of ‘Prey’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Prey’ is a noun that means: 

  • An animal that is caught and killed by another for food
    • “the lion pounced on its prey.”
  • A person who is easily deceived or harmed
    • “he was easy prey for the two con men.”
  • Plunder or (in biblical use) a prize

‘Prey’ can also be a verb, which means: 

  • Catch and kill for food
    • “some small birds prey on insects.”
  • Take advantage of; exploit
    • “Some thieves prey upon the elderly.”
  • Cause constant distress to
    • “the problem had begun to prey on my mind.”

Synonyms of ‘Prey’

  • Casualty
  • Game
  • Kill
  • Loot
  • Martyr
  • Chased
  • Dupe

Antonyms of ‘Prey’

  • Predator
  • Attacker
  • Ran way
  • Ate

Phrases with ‘Prey’

  • Predator or prey
  • Prey upon
  • Become prey

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Pray’ vs ‘Prey’

The beauty of homophones like ‘Pray’ vs ‘Prey’ is that they sound the same, so you kill two birds with one stone when you learn to pronounce them. This can, of course, cause complications when it comes to hearing them in conversation, but we’ll go over context clues shortly. In the meantime, let’s ensure correct pronunciation. 

Use this phonetic spelling of both ‘Pray’ and ‘Prey’ as a guide: 

  • ‘Pr-ay’ (with the vowel in each word sounding like the “a” in ‘grade’)

How to Use ‘Pray’ vs ‘Prey’ in a Sentence

Given their identical pronunciation, when you can’t read the word in front of you, you have to rely entirely on context. Fortunately, these two words almost never appear in the same place at the same time. That being said, it is still important to know how to use them to ensure you are writing and speaking in the clearest manner possible. Let’s take a look at some examples of when you would use ‘Pray’ vs ‘Prey’ in a sentence. 

‘Pray’ Example Sentences

  • Many religions pray to multiple deities, which each have domain over certain worldly aspects. 
  • She prayed that her husband would arrive on time for their daughter's first dance recital. 
  • Pray tell, how did you end up thwarting the palace guards to sneak into the royal chambers?
  • Every night before dinner, the family prays to thank God for their food. 

‘Prey’ Example Sentences

  • Seals are common prey for great white sharks because they share a coastal habitat. 
  • Creepy men often prey upon young drunk girls at a bar, which is why it’s good to always bring friends on a night out for safety
  • Girl Scouts often sell cookies outside grocery stores because they know hungry people are easy prey
  • The thought of the perfect time to propose to his girlfriend preyed on his mind for weeks. 

Final Advice on ‘Pray’ vs ‘Prey’

Homophones can sometimes be tricky to distinguish because of their identical sound, but fortunately, ‘Pray’ vs ‘Prey’ are total opposites. Words like these are always a great reminder that context clues are everything, especially in a conversation where you don’t have the words in front of you. Knowing the difference between an “a” and an “e” can mean everything. 

Want a quick review? Here’s what was covered: 

  • ‘Pray’ is a verb that addresses a solemn request or deep desire, typically in a religious context.
  • Meanwhile, ‘Prey’ is a noun that describes the food caught and killed by a predator, both literally and figuratively in some cases. 

Be sure to investigate other homophones and keep nailing down other confusing words that can give you a run for your money. Remember to speak and write clearly and keep your scenarios straight, and you’ll be a vocabulary pro in no time.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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