I'm trying to find a word like 'predatory' that refers to prey instead.

Looking through some physical books gave some information about the root word 'praedor', for which I found this Wikitionary page. A quick search on Merriam-Webster only returned some near-antonyms for 'predatory':

herbivorous, vegetarian; gentle, submissive, tame

None of these words really capture what I'm after. I'm trying to catch more of the behavioural side of prey, but I want to use this word almost like a quality for a human.

Example sentences of how I would like this word used;

  1. "Jack had been noted for his ... tendencies."
  2. "Rabbits are mammals of a ... nature, [...]"

Thanks in advance.

  • 12
    A predator is a predatory animal. Prey consists of prey animals. I.e, prey can be used either as a noun or as an adjective, there is no morphology. Jul 24, 2016 at 14:19
  • 5
    Also there's not a clear dichotomy between the two. Frogs prey on insects. Snakes prey on frogs. The verb to prey characterizes a predator. So what is a "prey animal"? Semantically it's ambiguous. It could mean an animal that preys (a predator, compare "attack animal" or "guard dog") it could mean a preyed upon animal. Jul 24, 2016 at 16:17
  • 4
    Yummy? Best with ketchup? Jul 24, 2016 at 21:03
  • 3
    Came here for Prey-datory, was disappointed.
    – Will
    Jul 25, 2016 at 20:13
  • 2
    I think what prey animals have in common is that they are tasty. Jul 26, 2016 at 13:31

9 Answers 9


preyed-on or preyed-upon (adjective)

Oxford online dictionaries

That is preyed upon; subject to predation; exploited or persecuted.

Google Ngrams

Google NGrams for 'preyed-upon' vs. 'preyed-on'

A Google books search for 'preyed-upon' and 'preyed-on' shows the prevalence of 'preyed-upon' in literature including:

Animal Life: Secrets of the Animal World Revealed


Animal Nature and Human Nature



Forest and Bird, Issues 47-90

Dillie the Deer: A True Story of Love, Healing, and Family

Theories of Human Learning: What the Professor Said

Human Infancy: An Evolutionary Perspective

Consider the Earth: Environmental Activities for Grades 4 - 8: Environmental ...

Made for Life (PLE: Emotion): Coping, Competence and Cognition

The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience

Extinct Madagascar: Picturing the Island's Past

Mountains of Hope

Philip Roth: Fiction and Power

A Season of Fire and Ice

Best American Humor 1994

Sword of the Highlands

Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse: A Critical Cognitive Study

The Illustrated Library of the Natural Sciences, Volume 3

  • 1
    Thanks for all the research and citations you put into your answer! I'm considering this due to how prevalent "preyed-upon" seems to be even if it's not exactly what I want. Looks like I'll have to make a compromise somewhere from other answers.
    – intrepidM
    Jul 25, 2016 at 11:46
  • The Sheep vs. Wolves image from MOTIVATION seems to suggest "preyed" is acceptable as well. Jul 25, 2016 at 15:16
  • 13
    needs more pictures
    – Matt
    Jul 25, 2016 at 21:36
  • 18
    Can you add some support or evidence for this? Jul 25, 2016 at 22:22

Predator is to predatory as prey is to preyed upon. This is a passive, "receiving" construction. Rabbits have a nature to be preyed upon.

In the case of a person, Jack was noted for his tendency to be bullied. That's another "receiving" construction in the passive voice.

  • 4
    So essentially, I should rephrase my sentences for a passive voice instead? That makes sense. I'm not 100% on the suggestion for "bullied" however; I'm looking for a word that encapsulates more of 'alert', 'careful' and 'methodical' rather than the implications of being bullied.
    – intrepidM
    Jul 24, 2016 at 14:52
  • @intrepidM: I agree with "rephrasing your sentences for a passive voice" in this context.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 24, 2016 at 15:59
  • "Preyed upon" was my second thought. My first thought was "Predator is to predatory, as prey is to... dinner."
    – tzxAzrael
    Jul 25, 2016 at 4:26
  • @intrepidM: "I'm looking for a word that encapsulates more of 'alert', 'careful' and 'methodical' rather than the implications of being bullied" should be in the main question.
    – LarsH
    Jul 25, 2016 at 13:21

In Latin, prædātōrius:prædātor::prædātus:prædātīcius/prædātītius.

Words prædātor and prædātus are antonyms.

Corresponding adjectives are prædātōrius and prædātīcius.

Therefore English antonym to predatory should be predaticious/predatitious (Latin meaning “taken as booty or plunder” per Lewis & Short).

Suffix -itious/-icious means “having the nature of”. From this, we can confirm the meaning of predaticious/predatitious as “having the character of the predated (preyed upon)”.

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(Sources: Dictionary.com, The Free Dictionary, Merriam-Webster.)

An excited predator might exclaim: “Mhmhm... This prey looks very predaticious!”

However, the only two authors to ever use this word in English (bishop John Gauden and gardener John Evelyn) have used it incorrectly as a synonym (rather than antonym) of the word predatory. You have an opportunity to fix their historical mistake.

There is also an English word predacious/predaceous. Again, it is used as a synonym (rather than antonym) of the word predatory. Again, the correctness of this usage can be questioned: Latin word prædātiōsus/prædāciōsus is not attested. If it existed, it would mean something to the effect of “plundersome” – hard to say whether a synonym or antonym. Whereas Latin word prædātius/prædācius means “more predated” (comparative degree of praedātus).

For a more common word, I would settle for submissive or gullible. How about furtive? A prey aware of being a target may behave furtively. Furtive behaviour defines a prey.


  1. John Gauden, Bp., “A sermon preached (...) at the funeral of (...) dr. Brounrig” (1660, London):

Not predaticious to any, but propitious to all true Saints.

  1. John Evelyn, “A Discourse of Forest-trees and the Propagation of Timber” (1679 Third Edition, possibly also 1662 paper):

It is not good to water new-ſown Seeds immediately, (...) be ſure to purge them of predaticious Weeds betimes.

John Evelyn: “Forests and Forestry” (17)

Provided no rank Weeds, or predatitious Plants (conſummating their Seeds) be ſuffered to grow and exhauſt it.

Also compare this passage:

But the ſhade of the Aſh is not to be endur’d, becauſe it produces a noxious Inſect; and for diſplaying themſelves ſo very late, and falling very early, not to be planted for Umbrage or Ornament; eſpecially near the Garden, ſince (beſides their predatitious Roots) the deciduous leaves dropping with ſo long a Stalk, are drawn by cluſters into the Worm holes, which foul the Allies with their falling Keys, and ſuddenly infect the ground.

with corresponding passage in John Mortimer’s anthology “The Whole Art of Husbandry” (1721):

But the ſhade of the Aſh is not to be endured, becauſe it produces a noxious Inſect; and becauſe of the late Budding, and early falling of the Leaves, and therefore ’tis not to be planted for Walks or Ornaments, eſpecially near Gardens, because of their ſpreading Roots and falling Leaves, both which are prejudicial to them.

This change clearly shows the intended meaning of “predatitious” as “predatory” (expansive, “spreading”) and possibly acknowledges it as an error.

  1. John Evelyn, “Elysium Britannicum, Or the Royal Gardens” (unpublished manuscript until 1998 edition by Therese O'Malley, Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, and 2001 edition by John E. Ingram):

And yet I remember Columella (...) is not for a total extermination even of those laizy & predatitious Bees, (...) least the labourious Bees should grow idle.

  1. Oxford English Dictionary (article behind paywall):

enter image description here

  1. Aulus Gellius, “Attic Nights” (book 13, chapter XXV, section 28):

Itaque hæc inscriptio quam videtis: ‘Ex manubiis,’ non res corporaque ipsa prædæ demonstrat, nihil enim captum est horum a Traiano ex hostibus, sed facta esse hæc conparataque ‘ex manubiis,’ id est ex pecunia prædaticia, declarat.

My translation:

Therefore this inscription which you see: ‘From the spoils,’ does not demonstrate the things and the matter of the prey (loot) itself. For none of these were taken from the enemy by Trajan. It only declares that they were made and bought ‘from the spoils,’ i.e. from predaticious money.

  • 3
    This, yes. It's not clear to me that predatory and predatitious are antonyms, but that's a fiddly detail. Even though I've never heard predatitious before, it just sounds right. Jul 25, 2016 at 1:42
  • 1
    This answer has definitely grown on me the more I read it; it does seem to be the exact word I'm after. Can you point me to where it is listed in the OED however? Interestingly, two online word tools do list "predatitious" as a word but fail to give its definition (tanyakhovanova.com/cgi-bin/WordGame/advanced_search.cgi and sgubanov.ru/index.php/starts/preda). I might have to settle for something more common or define it myself if I use it in a text.
    – intrepidM
    Jul 25, 2016 at 12:27
  • +1 for the "ſhade of the Aſh" and its "noxious Inſect".
    – LarsH
    Jul 25, 2016 at 13:22
  • @LarsH: I’m glad that you enjoyed it! 😁
    – 7vujy0f0hy
    Jul 26, 2016 at 10:44
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    @intrepidM: As a new user, I’m not allowed to include more than two links in the answer. Hence linking it here: OED predatitious. No new information there, it only confirms that both English authors have used this word as a synonym (rather than antonym) of “predatory”.
    – 7vujy0f0hy
    Jul 26, 2016 at 10:45

If you're looking for an alternative to "preyed-upon," the verb depredate can mean the same. Depredated in the noun form could express the meaning of something that is preyed-upon. Another more technical term in regards to predator-prey relationships is consumed, in case that's helpful.


There is no parallel word to predatory for prey because prey doesn't do anything specific to become prey. It doesn't require any special skills or predisposition. By contrast, the word "predatory" is specific: it refers to the ruthless, single-minded focus of the predator on the object of its hunt.

Falling prey is the result of a failure on any one of a number of fronts, or possibly several fronts at once. These are all connected to different attributes.

Some prey might be described as passive or unaware. It has the wherewithal to get away but is taken by surprise.

Prey which is active and aware of the danger might nevertheless become prey because it is scared, and paralyzed by fear. Or else it fails to escape because it is weak, slow or fumbling. Or simply due to poor intelligence (stupid) or information (ignorant). For instance, the prey knows how to swim, but doesn't realize that the predator fears the water, and doesn't take advantage of a nearby body of water to get away.

No one issue stands out which causes a creature to become prey, only that it is inferior in some way to its predator in size, strength and speed, or else has some flaw which causes it to lose.

We could invent an adjective which is a combination of all of these, but it would lack expressive power by encompassing too many unrelated attributes. Words are useful insofar as they have the precision to discern subtleties in meaning.

Being predatory doesn't preclude being preyed-upon since smaller predators are attacked and devoured by larger predators. Prey is not necessarily a shy, meek, herbivorous animal, so an adjective which implies these qualities misses the mark.


The word predal, "of or pertaining to plunder/prey", is now obsolete (so says the Oxford English Dictionary), but it has been used, so it could work in a literary context. Latin praeda means "plunder" but also "prey", which is why words like predator have been derived from it. So predal or praedal can mean "predatory", for predators pertain to prey, but also "having to do with prey", for that is what the suffix -al(is) normally means in English (Latin).

  • I was thinking of suggesting this last night when tchrist linked us to another answer to this question, but there's a problem. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913, among others, suggests that the word also means "predatory" and I can't seem to find any usages in English which suggest it has ever been used otherwise. As a matter of fact, I just found this answer by searching to see if anybody used the word here on English Language & Usage before to make sure I wasn't thinking of asking a duplicate question. This seems to be the only instance.
    – Tonepoet
    Jul 27, 2016 at 21:50
  • @Tonepoet: Yes, it can be used to mean "predatory". But it can also mean "related to prey", since praeda simply means "plunder/prey". As you say, the word is obsolete anyway, so I think you can use to mean "related to prey" if you are so inclined. Jul 27, 2016 at 23:47

victimized, vulnerable (synonyms for vulnerable: susceptible, unguarded, etc.)

predatory is an active stance, prey is an inactive stance, bait would be one of the few instances you would actively seek to be prey, but bait is the victim of one predator, to make prey of another predator. So again you seem to want to find a word to describe someone who actively seeks to become prey. That does not happen that I am aware of except as a secondary effect of other actions intentional or otherwise, such as complacency, over aggression, etc.

  • 3
    Not sure why you included 'victimize', which, to me, seems the treatment by a predator.
    – Řídící
    Jul 24, 2016 at 18:41
  • It's also not an adjective. Jul 24, 2016 at 19:06
  • 2
    Maybe he or she meant "victimized".
    – LarsH
    Jul 25, 2016 at 13:14

I'm trying to catch more of the behavioural side of prey, but I want to use this word almost like a quality for a human.

Example sentences of how I would like this word used;

  1. "Jack had been noted for his ... tendencies."

  2. "Rabbits are mammals of a ... nature, [...]"

I can't think of a word that perfectly matches your analogy, and taking the other answers into account I begin to think that it does not exist. But I can think of a word I would use in those sentences if I had to write them in my mother tongue (German).

sanftmütig (suggested translations)

Maybe the suggested translations contain a word you find fitting. To me 'meek' and 'docil' both seem to fit.

  • I get the feeling he is looking for a word that not only demonstrates vulnerability, but also almost begs to be taken advantage of by predators...someone who if the predators have choices of whom to pick as prey, they pick this particular person as if drawn like a magnet. Jul 27, 2016 at 1:05

Predated, as the past participle of predate (ODO), might work:

[with object] (Of an animal) act as a predator of; catch and eat (prey).

In the passive, then, "The chicks were predated by eagles." Of course, this usage is much rarer than predate meaning to pre-date.

  • This answer was automatically flagged as low-quality because of its length and content. This answer does not answer the question. The question asks for an adjective. Also, an unsupported statement is not useful and may be subject to deletion even if it is correct. We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. For an introduction to the site, take the Tour. For help writing a good answer, see How to Answer.
    – MetaEd
    Jul 26, 2016 at 16:49
  • 1
    The word 'predated' can be used as an adjective, for instance 'the predated chicks' means 'the checks that were eaten'. It might be a short answer, but its the correct one.
    – Guy
    Jul 26, 2016 at 17:37
  • 1
    If you edit the answer to show this, and also provide explanation, context, and proofs that it is correct, it will become a useful answer.
    – MetaEd
    Jul 26, 2016 at 17:48
  • The problem with predate is that it can mean "to prey up" or "designate a date earlier than the actual one", as in a predated check. Jul 27, 2016 at 0:58

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