prosecute

verb

pros·​e·​cute ˈprä-si-ˌkyüt How to pronounce prosecute (audio)
prosecuted; prosecuting

transitive verb

1
: to follow to the end : pursue until finished
prosecute a war
2
: to engage in : perform
3
a
: to bring legal action against for redress or punishment of a crime or violation of law
b
: to institute legal proceedings with reference to
prosecute a claim

intransitive verb

: to institute and carry on a legal suit or prosecution
prosecutable adjective

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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 prosecute in a Sentence

The store's owner agreed not to prosecute if the boy returned the stolen goods. The case is being prosecuted by the assistant district attorney. She criticized the government for the way it has prosecuted the war.
Recent Examples on the Web Under department regulations, a special counsel submits a confidential report to the attorney general, explaining his or her decisions whether to prosecute (Justice Department policy precludes charging sitting presidents). Perry Stein, Washington Post, 10 Feb. 2024 Since then, the governing regime, backed by PRC officials, has arrested more than 260 people and prosecuted more than 3,000 on other charges after the NSL had made protest impossible. Doug Bandow, National Review, 10 Feb. 2024 Wilson's first motion to dismiss the charges argued that prosecuting him for possession of a firearm for self-defense violated his right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. CBS News, 9 Feb. 2024 At age 39 Mayorkas became the youngest U.S. attorney, prosecuting criminals for federal offenses in the Central District of California, and was later tapped by President Barack Obama to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Kyler Alvord, Peoplemag, 7 Feb. 2024 In the rare instances that parents of school shooters are prosecuted, they were normally charged with crimes such as child abuse, child neglect and the failure to properly secure a firearm. Thaddeus Hoffmeister, The Conversation, 6 Feb. 2024 These efforts, when taken together, will boost the success of tracking down and prosecuting opioid traffickers and suppliers. Erik Floden, The Mercury News, 6 Feb. 2024 The decision marks the second time in as many months that judges have spurned Trump’s immunity arguments and held that he can be prosecuted for actions undertaken while in the White House and in the run-up to Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. TIME, 6 Feb. 2024 Anyone who is stealing from a retail store should be prosecuted. Lindsey Holden, Sacramento Bee, 5 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'prosecute.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, from Latin prosecutus, past participle of prosequi to pursue — more at pursue

First Known Use

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

Time Traveler
The first known use of prosecute was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near prosecute

Cite this Entry

“Prosecute.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prosecute. Accessed 21 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

prosecute

verb
pros·​e·​cute ˈpräs-i-ˌkyüt How to pronounce prosecute (audio)
prosecuted; prosecuting
1
: to follow up to the end : keep at
prosecute a war
2
: to carry on a legal action against an accused person to prove his or her guilt
prosecutable adjective

Legal Definition

prosecute

verb
pros·​e·​cute ˈprä-si-ˌkyüt How to pronounce prosecute (audio)
prosecuted; prosecuting

transitive verb

1
: to institute and carry forward legal action against for redress or especially punishment of a crime
2
: to institute and carry on a lawsuit with reference to
an action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interestFederal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 17(a)

intransitive verb

: to institute and carry on a civil or criminal action
decided not to prosecute
prosecutable adjective
Etymology

Latin prosecutus, past participle of prosequi to pursue

More from Merriam-Webster on prosecute

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