per·​se·​cute | \ ˈpər-si-ˌkyüt How to pronounce persecute (audio) \
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

Other Words from persecute

persecutee \ ˌpər-​si-​ˌkyü-​ˈtē How to pronounce persecute (audio) \ noun
persecutive \ ˈpər-​si-​ˌkyü-​tiv How to pronounce persecute (audio) \ adjective
persecutor \ ˈpər-​si-​ˌkyü-​tər How to pronounce persecute (audio) \ noun
persecutory \ ˈpər-​si-​kyü-​ˌtȯr-​ē How to pronounce persecute (audio) , -​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 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 Their departure accelerates a long-running process of shutting down Russia’s civil society, without the state having to persecute and imprison people individually. Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, 20 Mar. 2022 China also employs diplomatic pressure and financial incentives to secure foreign assistance in its efforts to persecute Uighurs abroad. John Beck, Harper’s Magazine , 16 Mar. 2022 While offering design inspiration, the papacy’s alliance with France to persecute the Templars also presented an allegory. Fawnia Soo Hoo, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 Mar. 2022 Increasingly, countries that persecute LGBTQ communities are altering their legal approaches to cases. Matt Burgess, Wired, 7 Mar. 2022 Worst of all, the bill would make the Federal Trade Commission a superagency by expanding its budget by $300 million along with the almost unlimited power to persecute American business with its vast menu of potential offenses. Robert H. Bork Jr., WSJ, 26 Jan. 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.

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

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

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Cite this Entry

“Persecute.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

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More Definitions for persecute


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

Kids Definition of persecute

: to treat continually in a cruel and harmful way

More from Merriam-Webster on persecute

Nglish: Translation of persecute for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of persecute for Arabic Speakers


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