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perdure and endure both mean "to remain in existence", and persist means "continue to exist". So are there any differences among the three verbs?

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Open-ended questions about synonyms are often tricky to answer; each word has its own connotations and nuances, but seldom will these persist in all contexts. (In other words, synonyms are sometimes interchangeable, and sometimes not.) I recommend visiting Wordnik, which lists several definitions and usage examples of each word; the "Show 10 more examples..." links can be especially helpful. The differences between endure and persist will be interesting to study; but perdure is a rarer word, seldom used; try putting it in a Ngram w/ the other two. – J.R. Aug 13 '12 at 10:15
J.R. gave you good information/advice. Here's the Ngram, just in case you are unfamiliar with that tool. I can't think of a single time I've heard or seen perdure used in a sentence. – JLG Aug 13 '12 at 12:13
Yes, the question is open-ended, but I would precise that this unhelpful distinction persist in some exemplar of thoughtful conservatism informed by an acute literary sensibility. However I feel a sense of intellectual kinship when meet people that are able to think on this issue! – Elberich Schneider Aug 13 '12 at 13:10
@Xavier Vidal Hernández: Your command of English is inadequate to both the tone and level of discourse you attempt. I am disheartened that ELU of all sites should upvote such garbled text. – FumbleFingers Aug 14 '12 at 1:45
@J.R. thanks for the link to Wordnik. Perdurantism (or theory of perdurance) use the terms "endure" and "perdure" to distinguish two ways in which an object can be thought to persist. Thus, it may be interesting to see if the difference also in language. – Guido Aug 14 '12 at 6:51
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The odd one out, and by far the rarest of the three, perdure has more “throughness” to it, implying that something has not just endured, but in fact persisted through or despite something else. It has more of a survival connotation than the others. Selected OED citations:

  • 1854 Hickok Mental Philos. 76 ― The mind perdures while its energizing may construct a thousand lines.
  • 1973 Boilès & Horcasitas tr. M. León-Portilla’s Time & Reality in Thought of Maya ii. 33 ― For longer than a millennium and a half, not a little of Maya symbolism has perdured.
  • 1979 Nature 22 Mar. 348/1 ― Thus enough maternal gene products (mRNAs or proteins) may perdure in embryonic cells to allow normal segmentation and cuticular differentiation.

And for the resulting perduring:

  • 1890 J. Skinner Dissert. Metaphysics 109 ― The Soul is revealed intuitively as a perduring living agent or entity.
  • 1977 Dædalus Summer 63 ― The assignment and reassignment of meaning must be investigated as processes in the domain of resilience possessed by each population recognizing itself to be culturally perduring.
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I'd add persist is more inanimate feature, endure implies effort, feeling, resistance against opposition, while persisting means merely remaining in place unchanged. Many ancient words in English persist in the everchanging language, but words in Polish endured through rusification and germanization of the nation that actively tried to kill the language and identity of the nation. – SF. Aug 13 '12 at 13:30
My copy of OED says perdure is obsolete. Personally, I suspect it was always rare, but usage has in fact increased significantly over the past century because of people conflating persist and endure. – FumbleFingers Aug 14 '12 at 1:19
@FumbleFingers How do you know that that is why it has increased? Plus you can hardly call something obsolete with a 1977 citation, now can you? – tchrist Aug 14 '12 at 1:25
@FumbleFingers No the OED does not say the word is obsolete in English; it says it’s from a word now obsolete in French: “Etymology: a. obs. Fr. par-, perdurer, ad. L. perdūrāre, f. per- 2 + dūrāre to harden, endure, f. dūrus hard.” See the difference? There’s no “obs.” tag on either perdure or perduring; you’ve misread it. ¶As for a better explanation, I can think of several. Can you explain why you stated that the reason for the increase was conflation, rather than merely suggesting it as a hypothesis? I have those, too, but that doesn’t make them fact. ¶Please don’t fight. – tchrist Aug 14 '12 at 1:56
A possible reason for the increased use of perdure (and derivatives) might be due to the discussion on perdurantism (or perdurance theory), a philosophical theory about persistence and existence (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perdurantism). – Guido Aug 14 '12 at 6:48

In philosophy the distinction is important. To persist is to remain wholly over time. To perdure is to remain over time despite changes. Objects persist and events perdure.

A table persists over time. It is, by and large, wholly present over time.

A birthday party perdures. People come and go, the activities change, the tone changes, but the party continues over time. It perdures.

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The first time I came across the word was in a liturgical context. A Tuesday Vespers responsory after a reading of Scripture in Benedictine Daily Prayer (Columba Press, page 1045) is "Forever and ever Lord, your word shall perdure."

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