persecute

verb
per·​se·​cute | \ˈpər-si-ˌkyüt \
persecuted; persecuting

Definition of persecute 

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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from persecute

persecutee \ ˌpər-​si-​ˌkyü-​ˈtē \ noun
persecutive \ ˈpər-​si-​ˌkyü-​tiv \ adjective
persecutor \ ˈpər-​si-​ˌkyü-​tər \ noun
persecutory \ ˈpər-​si-​kyü-​ˌtȯr-​ē , -​ˌkyü-​tə-​rē \ adjective

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

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.

Examples of persecute in a Sentence

The country's leaders relentlessly persecuted those who fought against the regime. They were persecuted for their beliefs.

Recent Examples on the Web

Like just about every other country in the ’60s, the former Soviet Union was home to a hippie culture of peace, love and brotherhood — when it wasn’t being persecuted by the Soviet state. Carolina A. Miranda, latimes.com, "Datebook: Shots of old Route 66, dreamlike paintings and garments fashioned from paper," 12 July 2018 President Donald Trump is the most notably persecuted, at least on his own Twitter feed. Z. Byron Wolf, CNN, "These politicians are using the 'witch hunt' defense," 18 Apr. 2018 Thus the society of Nacirema was born, Hall’s fictional universe where being black and gay is considered the norm, while white and straight people are persecuted even to the point of death for failing to adhere to the status quo. Stephen Daw, Billboard, "Todrick Hall Tackles the Politics of Race & Sexuality, Talks 'Mentor' Taylor Swift & More," 28 Mar. 2018 No,’ when asked by U.S. immigration authorities whether he ever had persecuted anyone on the basis of their ethnic background, race, or religion. Jeremy Roebuck, Philly.com, "'The only good Krahn man is a dead Krahn man': How culpable is Delco resident for ethnic atrocities in Liberia?," 22 June 2018 The Vatican is probably hoping that members of a more unified church will no longer be persecuted for their loyalty to the pope, and that greater freedom would be given to the church to seek new converts. The Economist, "The pope and China may be close to a deal on appointing bishops," 26 Apr. 2018 Francis has repeatedly highlighted the plight of Christians persecuted and even slain for their faith in areas where Islamic fundamentalists have targeted them. Frances D'emilio, USA TODAY, "Pope Francis to create 14 new cardinals in June," 20 May 2018 The law covered people who showed they would be persecuted on one of five specific grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and social group. Henry Gass, The Christian Science Monitor, "With 'zero tolerance,' new strain on already struggling immigration courts," 9 July 2018 Much of the Polish resistance in its various movements not only failed to help Jews, but was also not infrequently actively involved in persecuting them. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "Israeli historian accuses Benjamin Netanyahu of whitewashing Polish complicity in the Holocaust.," 5 July 2018

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.

See More

First Known Use of persecute

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for persecute

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about persecute

Statistics for persecute

Last Updated

17 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for persecute

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for persecute

persecute

verb

English Language Learners Definition of persecute

: to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs

: to constantly annoy or bother (someone)

persecute

verb
per·​se·​cute | \ˈpər-si-ˌkyüt \
persecuted; persecuting

Kids Definition of persecute

: to treat continually in a cruel and harmful way

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on persecute

What made you want to look up persecute? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

noxious or harmful

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

A Thanksgiving Word Quiz

  • a-traditional-thanksgiving-dinner
  • November comes from a word for which of the following numbers?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!