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verb (used with object), pros·e·cut·ed, pros·e·cut·ing.
  1. Law.
    1. to institute legal proceedings against (a person).
    2. to seek to enforce or obtain by legal process.
    3. to conduct criminal proceedings in court against.
  2. to follow up or carry forward something undertaken or begun, usually to its completion: to prosecute a war.
  3. to carry on or practice.
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verb (used without object), pros·e·cut·ed, pros·e·cut·ing.
  1. Law.
    1. to institute and carry on a legal prosecution.
    2. to act as prosecutor.
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Origin of prosecute

1400–50; late Middle English prosecuten to follow up, go on with < Latin prōsecūtus, past participle of prōsequī to pursue, proceed with, equivalent to prō- pro-1 + secū-, variant stem of sequī to follow + -tus past participle suffix
Related formspros·e·cut·a·ble, adjectivepros·e·cut·a·bil·i·ty, nounnon·pros·e·cut·a·ble, adjectivequa·si-pros·e·cut·ed, adjectivere·pros·e·cute, verb (used with object), re·pros·e·cut·ed, re·pros·e·cut·ing.well-pros·e·cut·ed, adjective
Can be confusedpersecute prosecute


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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words

sue, litigate, summon, try, indict, arraign, pursue, execute, conduct, do, contest, wage, manage, perform, practice, direct, continue, persist, discharge, law

Examples from the Web for prosecute

Historical Examples

  • Prosecute the boy, and you put him in prison, and spend more money; you get none back.

    The New Mistress

    George Manville Fenn

  • Prosecute him, and you may promise yourself to be blown up at every gaming-house in the town.

    The World's Greatest Books, Vol IV.

    Editors: Arthur Mee and J.A. Hammerton

British Dictionary definitions for prosecute


  1. (tr) to bring a criminal action against (a person) for some offence
  2. (intr)
    1. to seek redress by legal proceedings
    2. to institute or conduct a prosecution
  3. (tr) to engage in or practise (a profession or trade)
  4. (tr) to continue to do (a task, etc)
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Derived Formsprosecutable, adjective

Word Origin

C15: from Latin prōsequī to follow, from prō- forward + sequī to follow
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for prosecute


early 15c., "follow up, pursue" (some course or action), from Latin prosecutus, past participle of prosequi "follow after, accompany; chase, pursue; attack, assail, abuse" (see pursue). Meaning "bring to a court of law" is first recorded 1570s. Meaning "go into detail" is from 1530s.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper