Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Prescribe, subscribe and proscribe

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Cover of the January 1948 (vol. 29 issue 1) is...
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Now, I don’t read Esquire, but I happened to be looking over the shoulder of someone who does, and spotted this:

I don’t exactly prescribe to the ‘more of them to love’ mantra, but I do prescribe to the truism ‘more of them to manipulate’.

‘Prescribe’? That, surely, should be ‘subscribe’.

‘Prescribe’ is what a doctor does when recommending and authorising a medicine. It also means to state authoritatively that something must be done. See Oxford Dictionaries.

‘Subscribe’ has a few different meanings: See Oxford Dictionaries.  In the case of the Esquire piece,  ‘subscribe to’ should have been used (to mean ‘agree with’).

I haven’t seen this particular error before; it’s far more common to confuse ‘prescribe’ with ‘proscribe’. The latter means to forbid or denounce. See Oxford Dictionaries on this particular confusion (scroll down to ‘usage’).

More commonly confused words and phrases

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