Per Say or Per Se: Which One Is Correct?

dark aqua text "per say or per se" on light aqua background

It’s a commonly misused phrase, and it’s also commonly misspelled. Is it per se or per say? The confusion might be due to the phrase’s Latin origin, which is a big hint as to which spelling is the right one.

In this article, we’ll reveal the correct spelling of the term, define it, explain its Latin origin and meaning, and provide examples of how it should be used in a sentence.

Quick summary

The correct spelling of the term is per se; the common misspelling per say reflects the way that the se in per se is pronounced like say. Per se means “by itself” or “intrinsically,” and it’s often used to avoid making generalizations, as in I don’t dislike pizza per se, I’m just not in the mood for it.

Is it per say or per se?

The correct spelling of the term is per se. Per say is a common misspelling that’s influenced by the fact that the se in per se is pronounced the same as say.

Per se means “intrinsically,” “in essence,” or “by its very nature.” It comes from Latin, in which it literally means “by itself.”

The similar phrases in itself and in and of itself can be used to mean the same thing.

Perhaps due to its Latin origin and somewhat abstract meaning, per se is often misused. Let’s look at some examples that demonstrate proper use.

Most often, per se is used in sentences that seek to avoid a generalization.

For example:

  • I don’t hate vegetables per se, but Brussels sprouts are disgusting to me.

In this sentence, the speaker is using per se to indicate that their dislike of one specific vegetable does not mean that they intrinsically hate vegetables.

Here is another example:

  • Jeff is not unfriendly per se—he’s just not that talkative.

This sentence uses per se to argue that one quality does not make Jeff inherently unfriendly (even if it seems that way).

Here is one more example:

  • Our organization is not opposed to the proposal per se, but we can’t agree to all of it in its current form.

This example uses per se to state that there is not inherent opposition to the proposal, but rather to some of the details that it consists of.

Is it "alot" or "a lot"? Learn the correct spelling, and much more, here.

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