per·​sev·​er·​ate | \ pər-ˈse-və-ˌrāt How to pronounce perseverate (audio) \
perseverated; perseverating; perseverates

Definition of perseverate

intransitive verb

1a : to recur or repeat continually We call such tunes 'catchy'—and they are sometimes referred to as 'earworms,' for they may burrow into us, entrench themselves and then perseverate internally hundreds of times a day, only to evaporate, fade away, in a day or two …— Oliver Sacks
b : to intently focus one's attention on a thought or thoughts : fixate Lest she be misinterpreted, Hard is not an old-timer perseverating on the good old days and bitter about not getting some of that big money.— Bill Dwyre According to a variety of medical Web sites and publications, people who never smoke, … who exercise and don't perseverate about past wrongs and future ills are happier and healthier and live longer.— Brian McKenzie
2 psychology : to have or display an involuntary repetitive behavior or thought : to exhibit perseveration Any person … whose social skills have been severely deficient since very early childhood, who started to talk late or whose communicative use of language is inadequate, and who perseverates and lacks cognitive and behavioral flexibility meets the diagnostic criteria for an autistic-spectrum disorder.— Isabelle Rapin

Other Words from perseverate

perseverative \ pər-​ˈse-​və-​ˌrā-​tiv How to pronounce perseverate (audio) \ adjective
perseverative behavior perseverative thought patterns

Did you know?

Looking at perseverate and perseveration, you may guess that the latter was formed by adding a suffix to the former, but that is not the case. Perseveration is actually the older term. It has been around since the 1500s, when it was used as a synonym of perseverance (which at one time was pronounced, like perseverate and perseveration, with the stress on sev, instead of on ver). In the early 1900s, psychologists adopted perseveration for the act of repeating a behavior over and over again—for instance, continually repeating the same syllable or word might be called "verbal perseveration." Shortly afterward, those scientists wanted a verb for such acts of repetition, so they changed the -tion of perseveration to -ate and perseverate was born.

First Known Use of perseverate

1912, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for perseverate

back-formation from perseveration

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The first known use of perseverate was in 1912

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Last Updated

14 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Perseverate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for perseverate


intransitive verb
per·​sev·​er·​ate | \ pər-ˈsev-ə-ˌrāt How to pronounce perseverate (audio) \
perseverated; perseverating; perseverates

Medical Definition of perseverate

: to have or display an involuntary repetitive behavior or thought : to exhibit perseveration People with autism tend to perseverate on physical objects, such as flicking light switches or spinning objects like bicycle wheels. Individuals with Asperger's, however, tend to perseverate on intellectual matters, such as mass transit schedules, dinosaurs, geology, or whatever else catches their fancy.— Steven Shore, Intervention in School and Clinic


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