I'm familiar with the expression "pore over", meaning to examine carefully. However, I just looked at the definition of "pore" in Merriam-Webster, and it has confused me some!

  1. to gaze intently
  2. to read or study attentively —usually used with over
  3. to reflect or meditate steadily
  1. "to gaze intently". How would this be used? Could you "pore at" a person? Or "pore into" their eyes?

  2. "to read or study attentively - usually used with over". As far as I'm aware, the final phrase could be changed to "always used with over or through." Is this correct, or are there other prepositions that can be used?

  3. "to reflect or meditate steadily". How would this one be used? It's perfectly fine to just say "I meditated"; can you say "I pored" to mean the same thing? You can also meditate or reflect "on" something. Can you similarly pore "on" something?


1 Answer 1


The OED provides similar explanations to Merriam Webster, indicating that although over is the usual following preposition, others are possible. It shows examples from the time of Chaucer, and the older ones clearly indicate a variety of structures (on, upon, in, through as well as over).

As regards the 20th century, some, from 1922, and 1949 indicate a surviving use of pore with on and through as qualifying prepositions. Otherwise over seems to have become the only follower preposition in use with pore.

Note that the below extract only concerns sense 1b of pore. However at the end I have given two other senses (2 & 3), both stated to be obsolete (1788 latest), where pore seems to have been used without preposition. My supposition is that these uses have been superseded by peer. And we do peer into, peer through and peer at.

The OED gives the etymology of pore as "unknown", though it accepts it is probably related to peer (also spelled pire and pyre).

1b. To examine a book, map, etc., with fixed attention; to study or read earnestly or with intense concentration; to be absorbed in reading or study. Freq. with prepositions, esp. over.

▸c1387–95 Chaucer Canterbury Tales Prol. 185 What sholde he studie and make hym seluen wood, Vpon a book in cloystre alwey to poure [c1415 Lansd. powre].

▸c1449 R. Pecock Repressor (1860) 87 Thouȝ ȝe wolden labore and powre and dote alle the daies of ȝoure lijf in the Bible aloon.

c1475 (▸c1399) Mum & Sothsegger (Cambr. Ll.4.14) (1936) Prol. 71 (MED), Þouȝ þat elde opyn it..And poure on it preuyly..It shulde not apeire hem a peere.

1594 J. Lyly Mother Bombie i. iii. sig. B4v, In stead of poaring on a booke, you shall holde the plough.

1610 P. Holland tr. W. Camden Brit. To Rdr. sig. 4, I haue poored vpon many an old Rowle.

1675 W. Wycherley Country-wife i. 7 Mistresses are like Books; if you pore on them too much, they doze you, and make you unfit for Company.

1718 Free-thinker No. 37. 2 He rises by Three in the Morning to pore over Mathematicks.

1771 J. Beattie Minstrel: Bk. 1st liii. 27 Where dark cold-hearted sceptics, creeping, pore Through microscope of metaphysic lore.

1820 Keats Hyperion: a Fragm. ii, in Lamia & Other Poems 175 No, no-where can unriddle, though I search, And pore on Nature's universal scroll.

1876 L. Stephen Hours in Libr. 2nd Ser. vii. 322 He had pored over their pages till he knew them by heart.

1879 L. Stephen Hours in Libr. 3rd Ser. iii. 98 That disposition which..delights in poring over its own morbid emotions.

1908 L. M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables xxx. 345 I've pored over that geometry until I know every proposition in the first book off by heart.

1922 Times 24 Mar. 10/3 The old Flemish Bible on the pictures of which he pored in childhood.

1949 C. P. Snow Time of Hope i. iv. 38 She pored with anxious concentration through the advertisement columns of the local papers.

1991 G. Ehrlich Islands, Universe, Home iii. 28 We pore over maps, chart our expeditions.

  1. trans. To bring or put (oneself) into some state by poring. Chiefly in to pore one's eyes out: to blind oneself, ruin one's eyesight, or tire one's eyes by close reading or overstudy. Obs.

  2. intr. To look with half-shut eyes; to look closely, as a short-sighted person; to peer. Obs.

  • I think I disagree that the 1922 and 1949 references provide evidence that on and through are still acceptable now. OED is a historical dictionary, and those entries only show that those prepositions were acceptable when they were used (and so, over has been OK since at least 1718 and was still in 1991, but there's no evidence in that entry that even that is still acceptable in 2016, although it's only a passage of 25 years and one might assume it's likely).
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 5, 2016 at 11:37
  • 1
    Well, I still say 'pore over', don't you? And I don't suggest the 'on and 'through' are still acceptable. I was just surprised they had been used as recently as that.
    – WS2
    Sep 5, 2016 at 12:30
  • 2
    @Andrew: I was going to comment that to pore through still seems perfectly "current" to me. But this NGram shows that in fact this particular preposition has become far more common over the past century than it ever was before. I think to pore on is well past its sell-by date, though. Sep 5, 2016 at 12:48

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