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“Per Se” vs. “Per Say”: Which is Correct?

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When it comes to “per se” or “per say,” you aren’t alone in your confusion. We’ll get to the bottom of how to spell this phrase correctly and use it properly in a sentence.

This blog post goes over the phrase per se and teaches you what it means and how to use it.
One of these is a Latin phrase, and the other is a common spelling.
Is It “Per Se” or “Per Say”?

The correct spelling of the Latin phrase is per se, which translates to “by itself.” It’s used to state that something is inherently true when it’s considered on its own, rather than in connection with outside factors.

  • I like pizza per se, but I’m lactose intolerant and can’t eat it.

Per say is an incorrect spelling of per se.

What Does “Per Se” Mean?

Per se is a Latin phrase that is commonly used in English. As an adverb, it means “by itself,” “in itself,” or “intrinsically.” In other words, when someone uses per se, they are doing so to indicate that something is true and has been considered independently of other factors or circumstances.

If you know the correct spelling, but don’t understand the meaning of the Latin phrase per se, don’t worry. Below, we’re going to elaborate on what the phrase means to show you how to use it in a sentence correctly.

How To Use “Per Se” in a Sentence

Let’s take a look at the following sentence:

The third book is not bad per se, but compared to the rest of the trilogy, it’s quite dull.

The use of per se in the sentence above shows that by itself, without comparing it to anything else, the third book is not bad. However, in a bigger context and compared to the rest of the trilogy, the book is dull.

Using per se indicates that something is true in a certain context. Here are a few more examples that show how to use per se in a sentence:

John is not unfriendly per se, but he’s just not talkative in big groups.

Here, the use of per se shows that John is not inherently unfriendly. However, when he’s in the context of a big group, he’s not talkative.

The gallery is not far per se, but there will be a lot of traffic, so it’ll take us a while to arrive.

Again, per se expresses that the gallery is not far. This is true in itself. But in a bigger context, one in which there’s a lot of traffic, it’ll take a significant amount of time to get to the gallery.

Per se is often incorrectly used in spoken conversation to mean “so to speak” or “necessarily.” Although you may get away with using it this way in casual conversations, in formal settings, it’s best to know the correct use of per se.

Remember: In essence, per se makes clear that something is true in and of itself, without being affected by any outside influences or considerations.

Synonyms of “Per Se”

There are several words you can use in place of per se. A few of them are:

  • As such
  • By itself
  • Essentially
  • Inherently
  • Intrinsically

What Does “Per Say” Mean?

Nothing! Per say is just a common misspelling of the phrase per se. The confusion arises because the se in per se is pronounced like say.

Per se:

I don’t hate dogs per say, I just think cats are much cuter and cuddlier.

I don’t hate dogs per se, I just think cats are much cuter and cuddlier.

Liza loves swimming in the ocean per say, but she’ll happily take a swim in any body of water.

Liza loves swimming in the ocean per se, but she’ll happily take a swim in any body of water.

There’s no dress code per say, but a level of formality is expected.

There’s no dress code per se, but a level of formality is expected.

Image shows incorrect spelling: per se and correct spelling: per se.
There’s only one correct spelling of this phrase: “per se.”

Tips for Using “Per Se” Effectively

Per se is a useful term that adds clarity to your statement. However, it should only be used sparingly and in necessary situations.

Also, make sure not to write per say, as this is an incorrect spelling of the phrase. This can be hard for some to remember because of the pronunciation of se.

Luckily, LanguageTool will notify you if you’ve accidentally used per say in your writing. This advanced writing assistant can add even more clarity to your writing by removing redundancies, providing alternatives to overused words and phrases, and helping rephrase your sentences for optimal tone.

Try it out!

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