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

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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 Soros is paying Antifa to usher in the New World Order, which will persecute Christians and Republicans so Jews and socialists can finally rule the globe. Cheri Lucas Rowlands, Longreads, "The Mormon Mommy Bloggers of Instagram," 25 Dec. 2020 Given the history of Western countries demanding special privileges for missionaries, Christianity was seen as an alien and threatening faith, and the Communist Party was quick to expel missionaries and persecute local Christians after 1949. Walter Russell Mead, WSJ, "Beijing’s Collision With Christians," 21 Dec. 2020 International watchdogs and human-rights activists have said such ethnicity-detection systems could be used to track and persecute minorities. Washington Post, "Huawei worked on several surveillance systems promoted to identify ethnicity, documents show," 12 Dec. 2020 Trump has repeatedly attempted to paint the Biden and Harris ticket as radical and socialist, while Biden punches left and promises to persecute anarchists, simply for being anarchists. Erin Corbett,, "Is There A Moral Argument Against Voting? For Some People, Yes," 29 Oct. 2020 Guebuza has previously said his son’s arrest was part of a political campaign to persecute his family., "Mozambique Ex-President Faces Questions Over $2 Billion Debt," 17 Sep. 2020 In fact, Qadri introduced Pakistan’s current capital-punishment laws for blasphemy, which are used to persecute (and kill) Pakistan’s minorities. Sam Westrop, National Review, "How Not to Fight Terrorism," 3 Sep. 2020 Reports on the treatment of Uighurs over the past several years have revealed that China has undertaken an effort to persecute and imprison the Muslim minority, as well as members of Falun Gong, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists. Nicholas Rowan, Washington Examiner, "State Department warns that China is exporting methods of religious repression," 10 June 2020 Asylum seekers, or refugees, would have to prove more fully that they would be tortured or persecuted if they are turned away from the United States. Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner, "Trump administration proposes to make it more difficult to claim asylum," 11 June 2020

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.

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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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Time Traveler for persecute

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for persecute

Last Updated

30 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Persecute.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.

Style: MLA
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More Definitions for persecute



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)


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

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Comments on persecute

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