How to Spell Per Say or Per Se – Which is Correct?

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If English is not your native language, it is normal when you get confused with a number of things. One of the things that you may find confusing is per say or per se. So, which is correct? Is it per say or per se?

The correct way between per say and per se is per se. It is spelled as per se because it is a Latin loanword. For those who are not familiar with a loanword, it refers to a word that is adopted from a foreign language with no, or very little, modification in the spelling of the word. This word means by itself, in itself or of itself. In Latin, the proposition per has the meaning of by or through. As for the reflexive pronoun se, it can mean itself, himself, herself, or themselves.

How to Spell Per Say or Per Se - Which is Correct

Actually, the term per se showed up for the first time during the transition from Middle English to Early Modern English. It was in the 1500s as a way to refer to letters as letters. For instance, in order to refer to “a”, they would write “A per se” in order to distinguish it from using the definite article “a”. In fact, the same phrase was also used by them to mean a unique, prominent, or otherwise understanding person. For instance, “Thou shalt be an a-per-se, my son.”

Today, per se is used to show we are referring to something on its own rather than in correction with other things. In the legal field, it means inherently. For instance, it indicates that an act is inherently illegal. This word is often used by lawyers in tort law to indicate that certain circumstances create the presumption something else also exists. Besides, nuisances can also be categorized as per se by the legal scholars. In this case, it means an act or structure that is a nuisance at all times and under any circumstances.

Usually, per se is used as an adverb. As an adverb, it modifies a verb, adjective, a phrase, or the whole sentence. As an adverb, it means by itself or intrinsically and refers to qualities exhibited that stand alone as unconnected to something else. You can consider some of the following sentences:

  • The procedure is not difficult per se, but it is dangerous when performed with the wrong tools.
  • The content isn’t very interesting per se, but it leads to further training courses.

Apart from as an adverb, per se can also be used as an adjective. As an adjective, it describes a noun in the sentence. Just like as an adverb, this word also means by itself as an adjective. When you use this word as an adjective, bear in mind that it follows the noun it modifies, which is different compared to most adjectives in English where the adjective comes before the noun. Here are two of the good examples:

  • The research concludes that bed-sharing per se does not put babies at risk.
  • It is not these specified steps per se that are important.

Meanwhile, the Cambridge Dictionary recognizes per se as an adverb. It means by or of itself. Here are some example sentences:

  • Research shows that it is not divorce per se that harms children, but the continuing conflict between parents.
  • It is not a pretty town per se, but it is where my family comes from, so I like it.

Per se is usually used in order to distinguish something in a narrower sense from a broader content. Check out some example sentences below:

  • I have nothing against the ruling party or the official opposition per se, but I’m going to give my vote to the independent candidate as she’s well-known for her community work.
  • Your chapter on the unnecessary waste of water is thought-provoking per se but not essential or pertinent to your book overall.
  • Chronological age per se is not relevant when we look at the development of the child to place him in a class.
  • The gymnasts could not get the motions right because their instructor only showed them using pictures rather than the movements per se.
  • There are many factors involved in uplifting that poor community, and it is not economic development per se.

The word per se is widely used in the likes of magazines, papers, books, and some other things. Feel free to check out some publications with the word per se in the sentences below:

  1. Some argue that inequality per se is not inherently problematic. – From The Atlantic
  2. Atheism per se certainly doesn’t mean that people are antisocial. – From The Atlantic
  3. But maybe it’s not her literariness, per se, but her theatricality. – From NPR
  4. Her comedy is difficult to label; it isn’t observational per se or philosophical or surrealist. – From Los Angeles Times
  5. And suddenly, the two old friends are no longer old friends per se, they’re employer employee. – From NPR
  6. This isn’t a dialect quiz per se, but it will estimate how many words you know. – From Slate Magazine
  7. It was good to see him let his hair down, per se, and let his emotions flow. – From USA TODAY
  8. In this sense, we’re not looking at the end of ownership per se so much as the end of individual ownership. – From Slate Magazine
  9. However, the print revolution did not bring equality per se. – From Slate Magazine
  10. The new race in social media is not for audience per se, but for multi-device engagement. – From Business Insider
  11. I don’t think it’s the words per se, it’s the sentences. – From The Atlantic
  12. I do like them, but no more than other kinds of movies per se. – From The New Yorker
  13. I don’t think she per se believes she has magical powers. – From Hollywood Reporter
  14. You might discover, for instance, that you don’t want to follow your passion per se; you really just want to compete with your peers. – From Fast Company
  15. I don’t know that the name per se says it all, but the reputation that you build with that name is all important. – From CNN

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