What is the difference between "Pray for" and "pray over"??i found this word in a novel named "the testaments" by Margaret Atwood where it was mentioned as such:" There were rumours about the Rachel and Leah Centre at school, but they were vague: none of us knew what went on inside it. Still, just being ***prayed over*** by a bunch of Aunts would be scary." When we use "over" after any word,what do we generally refer??And since I have a poor knowledge of phrasal verbs,can anyone recommend me any book written on phrasal verbs to enhance my knowledge?

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    One can 'pray for' someone, privately, in their absence, making a prayerful request on their behalf. One can also 'pray with' someone, making prayerful requests which involve that person and which they may not feel able, in their distress, to voice for themselves. To 'pray over' someone is (I would suggest) what religious officials do (who are paid to do it). The person then becomes somewhat of a bystander in the process and the official takes over the proceedings, as part of their job. Some 'pray over' dead bodies but I cannot comment on that as I do not understand why it would be done.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 8:37
  • forum.thefreedictionary.com/… There's a good discussion on this in Free dictionary forums... Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 8:41
  • @NigelJ but when prayers are done upon dead bodies then it kinda sounds like praying for the dead body since you mentioned in the very 1st sentence that to refer "pray for"it requires their physical absence.And is it necessary for the person (being a by stander)to be present on the spot (where prayers are done on his/her behalf) in case of "pray over"? Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 8:42

1 Answer 1


In the Bible, the usage of "pray over" is unusual, occurring only once:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14, NKJV)

The sense is where people pray to God on behalf of someone (who may be sick and might not be able to also pray).

This passage is the origin of the Roman Catholic sacrament of Extreme Unction:

So, unction refers to the act of anointing the sick, the oil used to anoint the sick AND the spiritual disposition and hoped for response to the anointing. The hope for the sacrament is to bring about the physical healing of the individual who receives it as a continuation of Christ’s healing ministry.


BibleGateway has 154 results for the topic of prayer. These include:

  • individual prayer
  • corporate prayer
  • prayers for healing
  • prayers on an individual's behalf
  • requests that God would protect the nation
  • prayers that God would uphold justice
  • prayers of thanks to God
  • prayers that God would help
  • prayers asking God to forgive

The difference between pray and pray over would be that the former is quite general and used often. The latter is used rarely, and when the one being prayed over is sick or incapacitated.

The character in the Atwood novel may have thought that being prayed over was scary because she did not want God to do what the Aunts were praying for. (I'm guessing that the Aunts were not praying for healing from sickness.)

  • Cultural note: In American Pentecostal circles, being "prayed over" usually involves several church members gathering around an individual and praying simultaneously and loudly, sometimes in tongues, for an indeterminate amount of time. This is the type of activity that comes to my mind when I read the Margaret Atwood quote above. Scary, indeed, especially for a young person.
    – RobJarvis
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 16:53
  • @RobJarvis you feel the "the voices/prayers being so loud"is the reason that someone will get scared?? Commented Apr 4, 2020 at 22:45
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    I would say there are several reasons why this would be scary to her. The process is unfamiliar to her. The people praying over you are unfamiliar to her. And the outcome that they are praying for may not be what she wants. Finally, Margaret Atwood's characters are often pawns in an oppressive religious regime.
    – rajah9
    Commented Apr 5, 2020 at 2:13
  • @MahiraFarhanHaqRamisa that is certainly part of it, along with the person's lack of familiarity with the practice. These could combine to create a shock/apprehension/fear response.
    – RobJarvis
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 19:37

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