As an entomologist I must write and review manuscripts every day. English is my second language, and luckily the main idiom for scientific writing and discussion. I am often of two minds about the best choice of verb for conveying "consuming another animal" — either "prey on/upon" or "predate". In fact for a long time I thought the second "latinized" usage was a common mistake. What do others think, please?

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    The Online Etymology Dictionary (which you really should have checked and quoted) gives 1974 as the date predate was coined as a back-formation from predator. But if the string is accepted as a word, it doesn't matter if it's been around for 300 days or 300 years. While @Mark Ch's answer is correct, I believe that in a certain register 'predate' may be the more common term. You really need to check a style guide relevant to the work you are reviewing / writing; this becomes POB. Jun 24, 2017 at 14:59
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    Probably because of the other pronunciation and meaning of predate.
    – Lawrence
    Jun 24, 2017 at 15:18
  • As Edwin Ashworth says, it doesn't matter which predates the other :P Jun 24, 2017 at 15:23
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    @Jim - Ah, but that raises the religious question: Did the T. Rex predate humans??
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 24, 2017 at 16:31
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    @HotLicks, that is two questions rolled into one, such that answering either in the affirmative is almost necessarily to answer the other in the negative. On the other hand, by Plato's famous definition the tyrannosaur was human. Jun 24, 2017 at 16:45

1 Answer 1


Predate is virtually never used in spoken English, even though predator is a commonly used word. Prey on is frequently used in day to day spoken English in the UK.

Predate is so uncommon in spoken English that someone is unlikely to even understand what it means.

  • Predated is very common in monographs and ecological treatises.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 24, 2017 at 18:12
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    @PhilSweet which are both forms of written English
    – Mark Ch
    Jun 24, 2017 at 19:44
  • The question concerns manuscripts, yes? Actually, I guess it doesn't say it is about manuscript usage, but I think that is what the asker wants.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 24, 2017 at 22:09
  • Happy to delete my answer if I've missed the point, or you can vote down if it's wrong, or whatever, no problem
    – Mark Ch
    Jun 24, 2017 at 22:52
  • Not being a native speaker, I indeed grew up thinking predate as a verb for preying was a mistake. However once I corrected that on someone else's manuscript and the other part was outraged and sent me the links to online dictionaries. However I see there are personal views on this matter.
    – Scientist
    Jun 24, 2017 at 23:37

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