Pray or Prey?

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What is the difference between pray and prey?

To pray means to address God or an object of worship (to say a prayer)

To prey on means to hunt for (verb).
Prey is the object of an attack (noun).

Pray and Prey

Occasionally, there is confusion over the words pray and prey. This most commonly occurs with the following terms:
  • Pray to God
  • Fall prey to
  • Pray tell
  • Pray on (a mat)
  • Prey on (a deer)


The word pray is a verb which means to address God or another deity or object of worship. In other words, it means to say a prayer.

  • Pray as if everything depended upon God and work as if everything depended upon man. (Francis Cardinal Spellman, 1889-1967)
  • You should pray for a sound mind in a sound body. (Juvenal, AD 55-127)


The word prey can be a verb or a noun. As a verb, to prey on something means to hunt for something, or to exploit something (usually a person). As a noun, prey is the thing being hunted or exploited.

  • Skuas like to prey on Cape Petrel eggs, but Cape Petrels will aggressively defend their nests by ejecting stomach oil at intruders.
  • As well as having a keen sense of smell and being able to feel vibrations, sharks can see well (even at night), so they never have trouble finding their prey.

A praying mantis is named after the way it holds its hands in a prayer position. Of course, it preys on its victims, but that's not where its name comes from.