pre·​scribe | \ pri-ˈskrīb How to pronounce prescribe (audio) \
prescribed; prescribing

Definition of prescribe

intransitive verb

1 : to lay down a rule : dictate
2 [Middle English, from Medieval Latin praescribere, from Latin, to write at the beginning] : to claim a title to something by right of prescription
3 : to write or give medical prescriptions
4 : to become by prescription invalid or unenforceable

transitive verb

1a : to lay down as a guide, direction, or rule of action : ordain
b : to specify with authority
2 : to designate or order the use of as a remedy prescribed a painkiller a prescribed burn to restore natural forest conditions

Other Words from prescribe

prescriber noun

Synonyms for prescribe


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Proscribe vs. Prescribe

Proscribe and prescribe each have a Latin-derived prefix that means "before" attached to the verb "scribe" (from scribere, meaning "to write"). Yet the two words have very distinct, often nearly opposite meanings. Why? In a way, you could say it's the law. In the 15th and 16th centuries both words had legal implications. To proscribe was to publish the name of a person who had been condemned, outlawed, or banished. To prescribe meant "to lay down a rule," including legal rules or orders.

Examples of prescribe in a Sentence

This drug should not be prescribed to children. a drug commonly prescribed to treat rashes The doctor prescribed three months of physical therapy for my leg injury. The law prescribes a prison sentence of at least five years for the crime. The regulations prescribe that all employees must pass a physical examination. We must follow the rules as prescribed by the government. See More
Recent Examples on the Web But doctors have been hesitant to prescribe it, given weak evidence that the drug slows the progression of Alzheimer's. CBS News, 3 May 2022 Because Paxlovid is not yet fully approved by FDA, doctors are not permitted to use their discretion to prescribe it for longer periods. NBC News, 27 Apr. 2022 Since then, Biogen, facing weak sales of the drug after many hospitals and doctors would not prescribe it, lowered the price to $28,800 a year, still much higher than many analysts have said is warranted. New York Times, 7 Apr. 2022 Health-insurers have balked at paying for it and many doctors have declined to prescribe it. Joseph Walker, WSJ, 14 Mar. 2022 The first step in getting on the waiting list is for a physician to prescribe it. al, 2 Feb. 2022 And as is true in other industries, information about the product needs to be available to those who might prescribe it to patients and to patients who might actually benefit from it. Rita Numerof, Forbes, 27 Jan. 2022 Of the drugs discussed, at the moment only the antiviral monoclonal antibodies are available for doctors to prescribe for patients who are not in the hospital. Patrick Jackson, The Conversation, 20 Sep. 2021 Facial exfoliation is one of the most divisive topics in the skincare industry—some dermatologists are big fans of light exfoliation daily, while others prescribe very minimal amounts of exfoliation to their patients. Daley Quinn, Southern Living, 21 May 2021 See More

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

First Known Use of prescribe

15th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

History and Etymology for prescribe

Middle English, from Latin praescribere to write at the beginning, dictate, order, from prae- + scribere to write — more at scribe

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Time Traveler for prescribe

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

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Statistics for prescribe

Last Updated

9 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Prescribe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for prescribe


pre·​scribe | \ pri-ˈskrīb How to pronounce prescribe (audio) \
prescribed; prescribing

Kids Definition of prescribe

1 : to order or direct the use of as a remedy Did the doctor prescribe medicine?
2 : to lay down as a rule of action : order School rules prescribe daily physical activity.


pre·​scribe | \ pri-ˈskrīb How to pronounce prescribe (audio) \
prescribed; prescribing

Medical Definition of prescribe

intransitive verb

: to write or give medical prescriptions

transitive verb

: to designate or order the use of as a remedy prescribe a drug


pre·​scribe | \ pri-ˈskrīb How to pronounce prescribe (audio) \
prescribed; prescribing

Legal Definition of prescribe

intransitive verb

1 : to claim title or a right to something (as an easement) by prescription a precarious possessor cannot prescribe against the owner
2 in the civil law of Louisiana : to become unenforceable or invalid by prescription any party having an interest in a money judgment may have it revived before it prescribesLouisiana Civil Code

transitive verb

1 : to lay down as a rule or guide : specify with authority the times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the legislature thereofU.S. Constitution art. I
2 in the civil law of Louisiana : to invalidate or bar the enforcement of by prescription this claim for damages shall not be prescribed so long as the minor's right of action exists against his tutorLouisiana Civil Code

More from Merriam-Webster on prescribe

Nglish: Translation of prescribe for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of prescribe for Arabic Speakers


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