The Meaning of Per Say: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what the term per say means? This guide will provide you with all of the necessary information on the phrase per say, including its meaning, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does per say mean?

While many may believe the phrase is “per say,” which one would think only hearing it, the Latin phrase that is common in the English language is actually spelled “per se.” According to the unabridged English Dictionary, the phrase per se is a Latin phrase that means “by itself.” This can be used to mean intrinsically, or in and of itself. It is used to distinguish between two related ideas in the english language. The phrase is considered to be an adverb, but per is a preposition and se is a reflexive pronoun. The Free Dictionary also states that the phrase per se can be used to mean “with respect to something’s inherent nature,” similar to the phrase “in and of itself.” Readable also states that people have begun to use it as a filler word between gaps in ideas, which has been subconsciously adapted into the modern vernacular without people knowing its meaning.

There is also something called a Per Se DUI. This means that if a driver is breathalyzed and they find a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, that person can receive a DUI based on the blood alcohol level reading alone. It does not matter if they are not driving erratically or if they can pass all of the other inebriation tests. Blood alcohol level does not lie, and the person being tested can receive a DUI based on its reading alone.

How can per se be used in a sentence?

The phrase per se can be used in a wide variety of different circumstances. This is considered a polite phrase, so one does not need to worry about coming off too casually or formally by using the phrase. Below are a couple of different examples of ways in which one can use the term per see. In this first example, Brianna found out that her brother Henry has been catfishing people online.

Brianna: Henry! I’m going to kill you, and so is mom! You cannot catfish people online and trick them into thinking you’re a 25-year-old blonde woman. It’s illegal!

Henry: It’s not illegal per se, it is merely frowned upon. Who cares?

Brianna: I do! Because you are not a 25-year-old blonde woman, you are a 14-year-old boy. What happens when they trace your IP address and find our house? Do you really think no one in the whole state of New York is capable of that? What happens when they hunt you down?

Henry: I… I didn’t really think about that…

Brianna: Of course you didn’t.

Here, Henry uses the phrase per se to assure Brianna that the catfishing he is doing is not illegal, but it is certainly not morally sound. In this next example, Tina and Willis are taking care of a fake baby made out of a flour sack for their health class. Tina is extremely frustrated with Willis.

Tina: I can’t believe you just left the baby on the counter while you guys were recording your podcasts. That’s ridiculous! That’s negligence!

Willis: I wouldn’t call it negligence per se. It’s a sack of flour, not a real baby. If anything, the counter is where it belongs.

Tina: We are supposed to treat it like it is a real baby. And you would never leave a real baby on a counter all alone. One thing is for sure – I am getting annoyed with you just like a real husband!

What are synonyms for the term per se?

There are many different synonyms one can use in place of the term per se. People might choose to use a synonym because they are looking to expand their own vocabulary or because they do not want to repeat themselves. A list of many of these synonyms is below, from Thesaurus. People can use any of these different synonyms in place of the term per se if they feel that they are overusing it or if they want to change it up.

  • Independently
  • Solely
  • Virtually
  • Fundamentally
  • By its very nature
  • Intrinsically
  • Of itself
  • Singularly
  • Essentially
  • Alone
  • By and of itself
  • In essence
  • By definition
  • By itself
  • In itself
  • As such
  • In and of itself

What is the origin of the term per se?

According to Dictionary, per se was first used in the English language in the 1500s. In the beginning, it was used to refer to letters as letters, for example, “a per se.” From there, the term per se has been used by many different people in the English language, including philosophers, politicians, poets, and even Shakespeare himself. This phrase is heavily associated with law practices, which often use Latin phrases.

According to Etymonline, this phrase came into the common vernacular in the 1570s. The Latin word per came to popularity in the 1580s for use by itself, and means through, during, on account of, as in, or by means of.  The word-forming element se- comes from the Latin form of sed-. This means without, aside, apart, or on one’s own. This is also used as a third person reflexive pronoun.

Overall, the definition of per se is intrinsically, or in and of itself. This is a Latin phrase that is commonly misspelled as “per say.” This phrase is used to refer to something’s inherent nature, and is commonly used in law practices.