The difference between “prescribe” and “proscribe”

The verbs “prescribe” and “proscribe” are very close in spelling and pronunciation but almost opposites in meaning. Don’t get them confused!

Prescribe” means “stipulate” or “order”. Perhaps the most common usage is in the field of medicine – where a doctor prescribes a course of treatment for a patient.

Proscribe” means “condemn”, “prohibit”, “forbid” or “outlaw”.

So, a doctor could prescribe one course of action while proscribing another: Eat more vegetables. Stop smoking.

“Prescribe” is in common everyday use, but “proscribe” is not commonly used.

Other examples:

The doctor prescribed a course of very strong antibiotics.
The regulations prescribe that employees must undergo an eye examination every five years.

The government has proscribed far right and ultra-nationalist organisations.
Eating pork is proscribed by their religion.

The noun deriving from “prescribe” is “prescription”. A doctor writes you a prescription which you take to the pharmacy in order to buy the prescribed medicine.

“Prescription” also has a specific legal use. It refers to the right to use land owned by another person following continued and regular use of that land without receiving any complaint from the owner for a certain period of time (usually around five years). A claim to such a right is called a “prescriptive claim”.

The noun deriving from “proscribe” is “proscription”. A proscription is a ban or prohibition.



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