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[prey] /preɪ/
an animal hunted or seized for food, especially by a carnivorous animal.
a person or thing that is the victim of an enemy, a swindler, a disease, etc.; gull.
the action or habit of preying:
a beast of prey.
Archaic. booty or plunder.
verb (used without object)
to seize and devour prey, as an animal does (usually followed by on or upon):
Foxes prey on rabbits.
to make raids or attacks for booty or plunder:
The Vikings preyed on coastal settlements.
to exert a harmful or destructive influence:
His worries preyed upon his mind.
to victimize another or others (usually followed by on or upon):
loan sharks that prey upon the poor.
Origin of prey
1200-50; Middle English preye < Old French < Latin praeda booty, prey; akin to prehendere to grasp, seize (see prehension)
Related forms
preyer, noun
unpreying, adjective
Can be confused
pray, prayer, prey.
2. dupe, target. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for prey
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Did not Sarpedon fall, and didst thou not leave him to be a prey to the dogs?

    Stories of the Old world Alfred John Church
  • The voice, too, when he spoke, was as deep and as fierce as the growl of a beast of prey.

    The White Company Arthur Conan Doyle
  • When they are baulked of their prey they sometimes haunt a dwelling for weeks.

    Guy Fawkes William Harrison Ainsworth
  • And yet, we all agree in one object of our being—all prey on each other!

    Calderon The Courtier Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  • I had succeeded in rearing them on a great variety of prey, without paying regard to their normal fare.

    More Hunting Wasps J. Henri Fabre
British Dictionary definitions for prey


an animal hunted or captured by another for food
a person or thing that becomes the victim of a hostile person, influence, etc
beast of prey, an animal that preys on others for food
bird of prey, a bird that preys on others for food
an archaic word for booty1
verb (intransitive; often foll by on or upon)
to hunt or seize food by killing other animals
to make a victim (of others), as by profiting at their expense
to exert a depressing or obsessive effect (on the mind, spirits, etc); weigh heavily (upon)
Derived Forms
preyer, noun
Word Origin
C13: from Old French preie, from Latin praeda booty; see predatory
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
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Word Origin and History for prey

mid-13c., "animal hunted for food," also "that which is taken in war," from Old French preie "booty, animal taken in the chase" (mid-12c., Modern French proie), from Latin praeda "booty, plunder, game hunted," earlier praeheda, related to prehendere "to grasp, seize" (see prehensile).


c.1300, "to plunder, pillage, ravage," from prey (n.) and in part from Old French preer, earlier preder (c.1040), from Late Latin praedare, from praeda (see prey (n.)). Its sense of "to kill and devour" is attested from mid-14c. Related: Preyed; preying.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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