persecute

verb

per·​se·​cute ˈpər-si-ˌkyüt How to pronounce persecute (audio)
persecuted; persecuting

transitive verb

1
: to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict
specifically : to cause to suffer because of belief
2
: to annoy with persistent or urgent approaches (such as attacks, pleas, or importunities) : pester
persecutee noun
persecutive adjective
persecutor noun
persecutory
ˈpər-si-kyü-ˌtȯr-ē How to pronounce persecute (audio)
-ˌkyü-tə-rē
adjective

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Prosecute vs. Persecute

Take care to distinguish between prosecuted and persecuted, although we sincerely hope that neither word applies to you. Persecute typically has a small range of meanings, such as “to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict.” Although the word is occasionally found in dialectal use to mean “prosecute,” many usage guides consider this to be an error. Prosecute is generally found today in a legal context (“to bring legal action against for redress or punishment of a crime or violation of law”), although the word may also be used to mean “to follow to the end” or “to engage in.” If someone is prosecuted they are being tried in a court of law; if they are persecuted they are being targeted and harassed.

Choose the Right Synonym for persecute

wrong, oppress, persecute, aggrieve mean to injure unjustly or outrageously.

wrong implies inflicting injury either unmerited or out of proportion to what one deserves.

a penal system that had wronged him

oppress suggests inhumane imposing of burdens one cannot endure or exacting more than one can perform.

a people oppressed by a warmongering tyrant

persecute implies a relentless and unremitting subjection to annoyance or suffering.

a child persecuted by constant criticism

aggrieve implies suffering caused by an infringement or denial of rights.

a legal aid society representing aggrieved minority groups

Example Sentences

The country's leaders relentlessly persecuted those who fought against the regime. They were persecuted for their beliefs.
Recent Examples on the Web Although the United States has been a major player in Iraqi politics since the 2003 invasion, Iraqi leaders have at times exploited the ignorance or indifference of allies in Washington by using promises of reform to persecute their rivals. Mustafa Salim, Washington Post, 21 Dec. 2022 Fox News Digital also first disclosed that Mahallati waged a high-intensity campaign at the U.N. to persecute the peaceful religious minority community, the Bahai’s, in Iran. Benjamin Weinthal, Fox News, 20 Dec. 2022 Texans say Paxton could use the data to further restrict their right to transition, calling it a chilling effort to secretly harness personal information to persecute already vulnerable people. Cathleen Decker, Washington Post, 14 Dec. 2022 Texans say Paxton could use the data to further restrict their right to transition, calling it a chilling effort to secretly harness personal information to persecute already vulnerable people. Molly Hennessy-fiske, Anchorage Daily News, 14 Dec. 2022 Joseph Crackstone, as Wednesday soon discovers, swore to persecute all outcasts. Laura Zornosa, Time, 23 Nov. 2022 According to the resolution, the video accuses Ho, Manzo and Do of conspiring to persecute Venerable Vien Ly, the abbot of Chua Dieu Ngu Buddhist temple in Westminster. Anh Dostaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 24 Apr. 2022 But over the years the government continued to persecute religious minorities and political dissenters and isolate itself internationally, and opportunities withered for many Iranians regardless of religion. Washington Post, 8 Apr. 2022 All three countries use a patchwork of laws—often involving vague definitions of morality or debauchery—to persecute LGBTQ people. Matt Burgess, Wired, 7 Mar. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'persecute.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, from Middle French persecuter, back-formation from persecuteur persecutor, from Late Latin persecutor, from persequi to persecute, from Latin, to pursue, from per- through + sequi to follow — more at sue

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of persecute was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near persecute

Cite this Entry

“Persecute.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/persecute. Accessed 28 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition

persecute

verb
per·​se·​cute ˈpər-si-ˌkyüt How to pronounce persecute (audio)
persecuted; persecuting
1
: to treat continually in a way meant to be cruel or harmful
especially : to cause to suffer because of belief
2
persecutor noun
persecutory adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on persecute

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