To pray or to be prey that is the question…

The mantis is an interesting creature: It looks like it’s praying, but it’s really preying. Not sure of the difference between those activities? That’s okay. The words “pray” and “prey” sound identical, so it’s easy to get them mixed up in writing. But we’ve prepared this quick guide to clear things up.

Please do not let the alien-looking killer insect thing distract you from the important topic of spelling.
Please do not let the alien-looking killer insect thing distract you from the important topic of spelling.
(Photo: ElinaElena)

Pray (Appeal to God)

The word “pray” is always a verb. Typically, it means “appeal to a god or another object of worship.” For example, we might say:

The priest prayed for the health of her congregation.

Here, we use “prayed” to mean “asked God for something.” But we can use it less literally to mean “ask or hope fervently for something.” For instance:

We’ve organized a barbecue, so we’re praying for sunshine tomorrow.

In this case, the speaker is still asking for something. But “praying for sunshine” is more likely to be a figurative expression of hope for clement weather than a literal appeal for divine intervention.

Prey (Hunt or Victimize)

“Prey” can be either a verb or a noun. As a verb, its main meaning is “act like a predator.” Usually, this refers to an animal hunting and killing something for food (i.e., predation). We can return to our insect friend here:

The mantis preys on smaller insects, including spiders.

More figuratively, we can use “prey” to mean “victimize” or “exploit”: