\ ˈprā How to pronounce prey (audio) \
plural prey also preys

Definition of prey

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 archaic : spoil, booty
2a : an animal taken by a predator as food
b : one that is helpless or unable to resist attack : victim was prey to his own appetites
3 : the act or habit of preying


preyed; preying

Definition of prey (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to make raids for the sake of booty
2a : to seize and devour prey
b : to commit violence or robbery or fraud
3 : to have an injurious, destructive, or wasting effect worry preyed upon his mind

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Other Words from prey


preyer noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for prey

Synonyms: Noun

chase, quarry

Antonyms: Noun


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Examples of prey in a Sentence


The lion stalked its prey. The bird circled above looking for prey. The seals are easy prey for sharks. Too often elderly people are easy prey for swindlers and other criminals.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Invasive species alter habitats, break up food chains, eat up prey populations, and reduce predator populations. Annie Roth, National Geographic, "Why you should never release exotic pets into the wild," 3 July 2019 Other studies have shown that the disappearance of Daphnia has cascading effects on lake ecosystems: Algae overgrowth begins which in turn reduces populations of prey fish available for top predators to eat. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Decades After DDT Was Banned, It Still Impacts Canadian Lakes," 15 June 2019 The lizards, in turn, reduced the population of their own prey species, causing a dramatic change in the ecosystem. Avery Thompson, Popular Mechanics, "Turbines Kill So Many Birds They're Effectively an Apex Predator," 6 Nov. 2018 Meanwhile, Goldenfeld and other researchers had been applying Turing’s ideas in ecology, as a model for predator-prey dynamics. Jennifer Ouellette, Quanta Magazine, "A Math Theory for Why People Hallucinate," 30 July 2018 That could have signaled a prey change from ocean-bottom creatures to fish, Nelson said. Washington Post, "Research shows diet shift of beluga whales in Alaska inlet," 17 June 2018 Giraffes are prey animals, so that will take some training and some time. Mary Carole Mccauley,, "As Maryland Zoo continues its $20 million renovation, some animals will be out of view," 7 June 2018 If a predator hunts only at dawn or dusk, the prey fish may learn to ignore the smell of that predator at midday. Elizabeth Preston, Science | AAAS, "A growing sensory smog threatens the ability of fish to communicate, navigate, and survive," 20 June 2019 The adhesive skin exudate of Notaden bennetti frogs (Anura: Limnodynastidae) has similarities to the prey capture glue of Euperipatoides sp. Dani Rabaiotti, Quartz, "What animal farts—yes, animal farts—can teach us about climate change," 18 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission and other regulators cracked down on a string of such scams, noting that bad actors prey on hardworking Americans who are struggling to pay down their student loans. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, "Struggling to pay student loans? You could be targeted by scammers," 10 July 2019 Facebook also plans to drastically reduce money transfer fees and transaction fees through Calibra, a welcome move in an industry that has historically preyed on the financially vulnerable. Nick Statt, The Verge, "Facebook confirms it will launch a cryptocurrency called Libra in 2020," 18 June 2019 Gabriel noted that following Tati's birthday party, James and the waiter from Seattle actually hooked up after the waiter slid into James' DMs, so her claims that James was preying on him were untrue in Gabriel's eyes. Kelsey Stiegman, Seventeen, "Everything You Need to Know About Gabriel Zamora, the Beauty Vlogger Defending James Charles," 15 May 2019 Water pollution can harm their populations, and alien species such as crayfish and bullfrogs can prey on water bugs. National Geographic, "Giant water bugs eat turtles, ducklings, and even snakes," 3 Apr. 2019 These plants have occasionally been spotted preying on larger vertebrates, but scientists believed these were rare occurrences. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, "Pitcher Plants Have Been Quietly Snacking on Baby Salamanders," 17 June 2019 Cooper began preying on defensive backs in the Dallas locker room last season. Jori Epstein, USA TODAY, "'Three steps ahead': How Cowboys' Amari Cooper leverages chess, Rubik’s Cube to outwit defenders," 9 June 2019 The charges stem from a sprawling prostitution and human trafficking ring that preyed on troubled men for decades. David Owens,, "Glastonbury businessman Bruce Bemer faces sentencing in human trafficking trial," 11 June 2019 In the past, critics have compared the church — formed in 1926 — to a cult that preys on the poor. Maria L. La Ganga,, "As church leaders face rape and molestation charges, La Luz del Mundo at a crossroads," 6 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'prey.' 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 prey


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for prey


Middle English preie, from Anglo-French, from Latin praeda; akin to Latin prehendere to grasp, seize — more at get


Middle English, from Anglo-French preier, from Latin praedari, from praeda

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Statistics for prey

Last Updated

12 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for prey

The first known use of prey was in the 13th century

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More Definitions for prey



English Language Learners Definition of prey

: an animal that is hunted or killed by another animal for food
: someone who is easily harmed or affected in a bad way by someone or something


\ ˈprā How to pronounce prey (audio) \

Kids Definition of prey

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : an animal that is hunted or killed by another animal for food
2 : a person that is helpless and unable to escape attack : victim


preyed; preying

Kids Definition of prey (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to hunt and kill for food The dogs survived by preying on small game.
2 : to have a harmful effect Fears prey on my mind.

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More from Merriam-Webster on prey

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with prey

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for prey

Spanish Central: Translation of prey

Nglish: Translation of prey for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of prey for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about prey

Comments on prey

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characterized by aphorism

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