According to what I have come to understand, prescient is an adjective meaning psychic but percipient is a noun meaning a perceiver. So how can these two be synonyms?

Can anyone kindly explain to me the difference between these two words?

  • 1
    Have you looked at the respective dictionary definitions? Sep 18, 2022 at 17:25
  • Similar words, not synonyms. Prescient emphasizes knowing things beforehand - predicting. Sep 18, 2022 at 17:30
  • The root meaning of percipient is about perception, for prescient is about knowledge. Sep 18, 2022 at 17:31
  • I have edited your question for formatting and clarity,. Please do not use the British English tag when you do not need it, like here, and especially please never use a space before a question mark in English, as we do not do that. Terminal punctuation (full stops, question marks, exclamation marks) and commas, colons, and semicolons are never preceded by a space in present-day (not Victorian) English orthography. However, in various closely related writing systems, such as that of French, some of these do work differently in that regard, so it is an easy mistake to make.
    – tchrist
    Sep 18, 2022 at 17:34
  • Yes. I have referred to various dictionaries like Cambridge, Oxford, Macmillan, and Collins. I'm very confused to see them as synonyms. They have completely different meaning, isn't it? Sep 18, 2022 at 17:36

2 Answers 2


Both words can be used both as nouns and as adjectives. The only overlapping senses would likely occur in their uses as nouns, which are less common than their adjectival uses.

As an adjective, percipient today mostly means perceptive. The OED gives this meaning:

That perceives or is capable of perceiving; conscious; perceptive, discerning.

That really doesn’t match with what prescient means. To find the purported synonymy, we must instead look to the noun senses. As a noun, percipient is restricted mainly to two specific domains, either philosophy or “parapsychology”:

  1. Chiefly Philosophy. A person who or thing which perceives.
  2. Parapsychology. A person who perceives something outside the range of the senses; a person with extrasensory perception.

It’s the second noun sense that aligns with people having prescience, worlds with seers and prophets, psychics and fortune tellers.

As for prescient, the OED provides two adjectival senses:

  1. Having foreknowledge or foresight; foreseeing.
  2. Of, relating to, or arising from prescience.

It is mainly in the speculative worlds of science fiction or fantasy that one encounters prescient used as noun to indicate a person with prescience, whether that’s Paul Atreides from Dune or Cassandra from the Iliad.* Those are where people who are called “prescients” would be like people called “psychics”.

Words with meanings similar to adjectival sense of prescient include foreseeing, far-sighted, long-sighted, prevoyant, precognitive.

Be aware that prescients the plural noun and prescience are pronounced identically, so it would be easy to mishear one for the other.

* BTW, Atreïdes also derives from the Iliad.

  • Words with meanings similar to adjectival sense of prescient... I would add clairvoyant.
    – fev
    Sep 18, 2022 at 19:00
  • Prescient is also used with less of a supernatural/psychic type meaning, occasionally in academic texts, where it is used when someone had a deep understanding of the long term trajectory of a situation, or the consequences of an action or policy, that wasn't apparent to anyone else. Some examples can be seen here Sep 19, 2022 at 4:28

Prescient means being able to see, or at least anticipate, the future. It comes from Latin words meaning foreknowledge.

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