Can the word "pry" be interpreted negatively (offensively)? For example, “to pry into other people's affairs” or is it still possible to interpret the meaning just as “curious”? I am interested in the attitude to this word English native speakers. I am not English native speakers.

Or for example: "be pry" equals "be curious"?

I relied on these sources. The question was inspired by the observation that no one uses the word "pry" for commercial purposes (marketing), for example slogans, headings, etc.

Google Translate, Yandex Translate, Multitran, Reverso

  • What did you find when you looked up pry in some dictionaries? Jun 7, 2019 at 0:33
  • Ambiguous information in different dictionaries.
    – Dmitry S.
    Jun 7, 2019 at 22:10
  • Dmitry, I asked that question as a prompt for you to edit your post to include the research you've done - i.e. tell us what the "ambiguous information" was and where you found it. Failing to include this information not only encourages downvotes, it also risks your post being closed/deleted for lack of research. Please see How to Ask for further guidance. :-) Jun 7, 2019 at 23:52
  • Topic was updated. So, I want say thanks people that indicated on links of good dictionaries.
    – Dmitry S.
    Jun 8, 2019 at 0:11

2 Answers 2


Pry in the sense of "ask for information" is almost always negative in connotation.

Pry in the sense of "use a stick or bar to open something" is neutral in connotation, and is a shortening of prise/prize.

(This usage of pry is a verb, so one can't say "be pry" in the way one can say "be curious".)

  • That is "pry" can't be a noun? But in your example (link wiki), "prey" can also be a noun.
    – Dmitry S.
    Jun 7, 2019 at 22:26
  • 1
    Well, if pry can mean "An excessively inquisitive person", then I guess someone could "be a pry". But I have never heard that usage.
    – GEdgar
    Jun 8, 2019 at 1:49
  • 1
    @DmitryS. The main noun sense of "pry" is "a lever used to prise something open", for example a crowbar or stick. Jun 8, 2019 at 1:53

to pry Macmillan Dictionary

[intransitive] to be interested in someone’s personal life in a way that is annoying or offensive

As in:

  • I just glanced at the letter; I didn’t mean to pry.
  • The press continues to pry into their affairs.

Depending on the context, to pry is meaning to be intrusive and or offensive, though the phrase prying eyes is a more neutral 'curious', but still annoyingly so.

The OED gives this definition:

... to peer intrusively; ... to seek out secret or private information, ... to spy.

Etymonline.com cites early usage as being more inquisitive than obtrusively inquisitive. My sense of current usage is more to the negative or offensive.

"look inquisitively," c. 1300, from prien "to peer in," of unknown origin, perhaps related to late Old English bepriwan "to wink." Related: Pried; prying. As a noun, "act of prying," from 1750; meaning "inquisitive person" is from 1845.


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