Persecute vs. Prosecute

How to use "persecute" and "prosecute" correctly

This is an entry on my list of Common Errors in English Usage. Visit the main page for direct links to additional entries.

To persecute means “to harass or mistreat people because of their beliefs, race, sexual orientation, etc.”:

suffered prosecution by the Nazis
prosecuted by the Nazis

persecuted by the Nazis (mistreated)

suffered persecution by those who fear and hate what they don’t understand

To prosecute means “to take legal action against [a person or other entity]”:

prosecuted the executives for tax evasion

Prosecute can also mean “to pursue [an activity] to its completion”:

military forces prosecuted the war with great determination

Related Resources

Common Errors in English Usage: Errors in diction and idiom commonly made by native speakers of English

List of Common Errors in English Usage (PDF): Printable version of the complete list

Common Grammar Errors: A list of common errors in grammar (topics like subject-verb agreement and parallelism) as distinct from usage

List of Common Errors in English Usage: PDF version

© 2006, 2008, and 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.