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I want the actual meaning of "per se". I have found the definition as "by/of/in itself"

However, I am not getting this.

Here are some example sentences using this word. Can anyone replace the word in these sentences with simple English?

  1. It is not the money per se that makes them unhappy, but the single-minded pursuit of that money.
  2. It is not a pretty town per se, but it is where my family comes from, so I like it.
  3. Research shows that it is not divorce per se that harms children, but the continuing conflict between parents.
  4. There is no indication that just having a degree per se improves your chance of getting a job.
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    You've already pointed to a definition that gives you alternate wording: by itself, of itself, and in itself. Are you saying you don't understand what those three phrases mean? – Jason Bassford Sep 11 '18 at 14:40
  • @JasonBassford thank you for your interest. I have found my answer. – Zaidur Sep 11 '18 at 14:45
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Note that by itself means

Alone; with nothing else added.

  • One nail by itself won't hold up that picture frame—put another nail in on this side.

  • I think this dish is fine by itself—it doesn't need a sauce.

in itself is

Without the consideration of anything else. (A shortening of the full phrase "in and of itself.")

  • The defendant's story seems plausible in itself, but when taken alongside the testimony of the witnesses, it starts to look less and less believable.

  • As a sequel, the movie does a good job of continuing the story of the first, but it fails as a cohesive, enjoyable film in itself.

of itself is

used for emphasizing that what you are saying about one particular thing is true without even considering anything else

  • Some of the medicines were out of date, which was in itself dangerous.

  • Using someone else’s name is not of itself a crime, unless there is an intention to commit a fraud.

The common thread in the definitions for "by/of/in itself" is

without considering/adding anything else

Some synonyms for "per se" are

  • essentially

  • alone

  • as such

  • solely

  • independently

So, if you were to replace per se in your example sentences

  1. It is not the money "alone" (or only the money) that makes them unhappy, but the single-minded pursuit of that money.

  2. It is not a pretty town as such, but it is where my family comes from, so I like it.

    • From what you see, the town is not pretty, but I like it because it's where my family comes from
  3. Research shows that it is not divorce essentially that harms children, but the continuing conflict between parents.

    • Research shows that the continuing conflict between parents harms children more than the fact that the parents got a divorce
  4. There is no indication that just having a degree alone improves your chance of getting a job.

    • There is no indication that if you just have a degree, your chances of getting a job are better
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    Thanks a lot for this elaborate explanation. It cleared all my doubts. – Zaidur Sep 11 '18 at 14:41
  • @Zaidur You're welcome! – bookmanu Sep 11 '18 at 14:47
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There is a difference between a thing itself and 'stuff' that is merely related to it, such as its qualities. For example, a brick as a 'thing' is a rectangular block of material. Its 'qualities' might include being heavy and being rough to the touch. You might also talk about things that are made of bricks such as houses. Talking about roughness and houses isn't the same thing as talking about the bricks themselves (i.e. they aren't the same as talking about bricks per se).

The phrase per se tends to be used within a negative phrase - "not talking about (X) per se but instead about (Y)". Here, X might be the brick and Y might be the house.

Let's consider your first example:

It is not the money per se that makes them unhappy, but the single-minded pursuit of that money.

The 'thing' here is money. The quote says that it's not the money itself (per se) that makes them unhappy. It's something else (albeit related to money) that makes them unhappy - in this case, "the single-minded pursuit" of it.

The term per se is used to explicitly focus on the thing itself rather than what is merely related to it.

  • @Zaidur You're welcome. – Lawrence Sep 11 '18 at 14:47
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The literal meaning of the Latin is "through itself". Per has a range of meanings like any preposition but the basic meaning is "through".

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3Dper1

It takes the accusative so se is the accusative of sui meaning "himself","herself","itself","themselves", just like the word in French.

  • Thank you. Dictionaries doesn't contain this kind of breaking of the meaning. – Zaidur Sep 13 '18 at 2:18

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