Meaning of prey in English:


Pronunciation /preɪ/

See synonyms for prey

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mass noun
  • 1An animal that is caught and killed by another for food.

    ‘the kestrel pounced on its prey’
    • ‘Rodents are prey for avian, reptilian, and mammalian predators.’
    • ‘The enzymes and toxins in scorpion venom are used by the arachnid to paralyse its prey and digest its food.’
    • ‘The calving lures many animals of prey, including lions and spotted hyena.’
    • ‘Vulnerability, habitat selection, or other variables may affect where predators kill prey.’
    • ‘Perhaps this shows us another reason for fear of spiders - it is the only other creature that sets traps and toys with its prey before killing it.’
    • ‘Many animals that are prey, such as rabbits and deer, have much less binocular vision.’
    • ‘Animals have the vegetable kingdom for their nourishment, and within the animal kingdom again every animal is the prey and food of some other.’
    • ‘Think of a carnivore animal evolving powerful jaws to catch and kill its prey.’
    • ‘Many snakes also use their bending skills to kill their prey by coiling tightly around them.’
    • ‘Insects feeding on the blood of higher animals locate their prey by following the high CO2 gradient produced by its breath.’
    • ‘Venoms immobilise and kill their prey by blocking certain ‘targets’ within the body.’
    • ‘Giant condors scavenged on the remains of prey killed by predators such as the American lion and sabre-toothed cats.’
    • ‘Pythons are constrictors, meaning they rely on strength, not venom, to kill their prey.’
    • ‘Lions when deprived of their usual prey occasionally attack domestic animals and even human beings.’
    • ‘Carnivora have long teeth and claws for holding and killing prey; vegetarian animals have short teeth and no claws.’
    • ‘These birds, endemic in southern Africa, are obligate scavengers, which means they are unable to kill their own prey as eagles or hawks do.’
    • ‘Spotted hyenas kill their own prey more often than they scavenge.’
    • ‘I would also like to point out that foxes prey on rabbits and other small animals for food, which is a natural instinct, but humans are not natural predators to the fox.’
    • ‘She owned the wild animals, both prey and predators, and looked after them.’
    • ‘To assure the bugs have enough food if insect prey is scarce, place some apple slices in the nursery.’
    quarry, game, kill
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    1. 1.1A person who is easily deceived or harmed.
      ‘he was easy prey for the two con men’
      • ‘That the enemy had not singled Winfred out to be easy prey was nothing short of pure fortune, especially with the battle still raging before his eyes.’
      • ‘A lot of youth are illiterate and unemployed and easy prey.’
      • ‘In this hot, desert-like mountain landscape I too would be easy prey.’
      • ‘Should we fumble, should we fall in the middle of the road, we will become easy prey.’
      • ‘Security-shy residents are allowing themselves to become easy prey for burglars.’
      • ‘As more visitors come to centres like Newry, unfortunately so too do criminals on the lookout for easy prey.’
      • ‘The carnival regularly attracts armies of purse snatchers and pickpockets who find easy prey among the revellers.’
      • ‘Benson Osawe, academic affairs officer at the university's student union, said students were often seen as easy prey.’
      • ‘The niggling doubts surrounding his decision made so long ago fashioned him as easy prey for Jennifer's plan.’
      • ‘Call it greed, ignorance or gullibility, some people will always be the ‘marks’ - easy prey for the confidence tricksters.’
      • ‘He had made himself easy prey, since he had kicked off his shoes.’
      • ‘There wasn't much Joe enjoyed more than baiting his brothers and Adam, with his more volatile temper, was easy prey.’
      • ‘When I became disoriented I knew I was easy prey for her lioness ways.’
      • ‘They usually fed along the alley ways, since they were highways for the city's riffraff and homeless - usually easy prey.’
      • ‘They deserve a lot of credit for the way they compete each week, knowing that most teams regard them as easy prey.’
      • ‘The region's 70,000-strong student population is the largest in the country and criminals often see them as easy prey.’
      • ‘In addition, people who were with drawing money from banks were easy prey for robbers.’
      • ‘Decadent, corrupt nobles were always easy prey for barbarians and rebels.’
      • ‘If we kept you on, the employee who had cost us so much, we would look like a laughing stock, and we'd also be easy prey for rival businesses.’
      • ‘That makes them easy prey for insurance crooks who promise to recoup more than a policy is worth - for a fee - then disappear.’
      victim, target, dupe, fool, innocent, gull
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  • 2 archaic Plunder or (in biblical use) a prize.


[no object]prey on/upon
  • 1Catch and kill for food.

    ‘small birds that prey on insect pests’
    • ‘As much as I am appalled at what cats do to defenceless animals, I could never be cruel to them, even when they invade my garden to prey on the birds that drop in for food and water.’
    • ‘Lacewings are beneficial insects which prey on bugs that damage food crops.’
    • ‘Considered pests that prey on pets and livestock, the eagles have been hunted down by residents.’
    • ‘With plenty of smaller birds and rabbits to prey on, all around the island kestrels hover, buzzards glide and peregrine falcons swoop.’
    • ‘Several species of insects and mites prey on spider mites.’
    • ‘The worker ants prey on other insects and can chew holes in fabrics, plastics and rubber goods, including the insulation of telephone or electrical wires.’
    • ‘A biologist at the University of Arizona, Rosen studies what insects and fish prey on bullfrog tadpoles.’
    • ‘These hordes of hungry insects will prey on many destructive garden bugs.’
    • ‘Crows prey on young ducklings while foxes kill the breeding stock if or when the opportunity arises.’
    • ‘Those stages for the tree are then linked to the various pests that prey on apple trees and fruits.’
    • ‘Eastern Screech-Owls are known to prey on a variety of insects, small birds, and small mammals.’
    • ‘Fire ants prey on karst invertebrates and the surface community food base upon which the karst species depend.’
    • ‘Foxes as predators prey on lambs and chickens and kill native small marsupials and rodents.’
    • ‘Garbage will attract gulls and mammals that prey upon nesting birds.’
    • ‘A beneficial insect is usually defined by the gardener as one that preys on insects that can damage plants of value to that very same gardener.’
    • ‘Real vampire bats prey on cattle and horses, take tiny quantities of blood and are dangerous only insofar as they sometimes carry bovine tuberculosis and rabies.’
    • ‘The exotic spiders, which are at first of normal size, slowly start to grow bigger and burst out of their confines to prey on the township population.’
    • ‘In Scotland we have no indigenous crayfish but signal crayfish, which grow to over 20 cm, are omnivores and can prey on small fish and fish eggs.’
    • ‘He gets about $240 a year but he insists it's not enough, especially when lions prey on his cattle.’
    • ‘In Espanola's Gardner Bay, a hungry ocean shark, come to prey on young sea lion pups, chased a group of snorkelers onto the rocks.’
    hunt, catch, seize
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    1. 1.1Take advantage of; exploit.
      ‘this is a mean type of theft by ruthless people preying on the elderly’
      • ‘Ruthless thieves are preying on the elderly outside charity and discount shops in Swindon.’
      • ‘Cruel doorstep cheats who prey on elderly people claim the number one spot on a damning ‘top five’ list of the worst swindlers, conmen and thieves.’
      • ‘Gardaí believe he was one of the leaders of a group who prey on elderly people living alone in remote, rural parts of the west of Ireland.’
      • ‘Her regular trip to the Post Office used to be a nightmare ordeal as she walked streets plagued by drug addicts and petty crooks, all prepared to prey on the elderly.’
      • ‘Rogue traders who prey on York's elderly residents could face court as city councillors step up their campaign against doorstep crime.’
      • ‘The criminals who prey on the elderly are the lowest of the low - contemptible cowards whose targets are the frail and solitary.’
      • ‘A scheme to take on cowboy builders who prey on elderly people was launched by Sutton and Cheam MP Paul Burstow last week.’
      • ‘People who prey on elderly women ought to be locked up forever.’
      • ‘Police have warned the public to be on their guard for two men posing as policemen who prey on elderly victims in their homes.’
      • ‘There are few offenders more despicable than criminals who prey on the elderly and infirm.’
      • ‘Three Cumbrian building societies have joined forces to combat cruel fraudsters who prey on the elderly and vulnerable.’
      • ‘To take advantage of the hopeless is truly despicable, but to prey on the helpless, whether directly or indirectly, is criminal.’
      • ‘Cowboys and cold callers who prey on York and North Yorkshire's elderly and vulnerable could have the door shut in their face if a Parliamentary bill becomes law.’
      • ‘Cold-hearted door-to-door salesmen are preying on the elderly and conning them into buying over-priced funerals.’
      • ‘Burglars have been preying on elderly residents by pretending to be from the water board to get into their homes.’
      • ‘An initiative to stop bogus callers preying on elderly victims has been launched in Basildon today.’
      • ‘A man who preyed on the elderly by burgling residential care homes in his own village faces a jail term.’
      • ‘Two prolific burglars who preyed on elderly people by claiming to be looking for a lost kitten have been jailed.’
      • ‘These are artist's impressions of two men who preyed on elderly people living in Ludgershall.’
      • ‘James Player believes the problem of conmen preying on the elderly and vulnerable could even be more serious than the figures reveal - because many who have been targeted are ashamed by having been conned so easily and do not come forward.’
      exploit, victimize, molest, pick on, intimidate, harass, hound, take advantage of
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    2. 1.2Cause constant distress to.
      ‘the problem had begun to prey on my mind’
      • ‘As he grew up he refused to allow the horrific accident to prey on his mind and despite his disability he was able to do well at primary and elementary school.’
      • ‘When I'm between jobs, the issue of money tends to prey on my mind.’
      • ‘After the couple's return from the holiday isle, one thing continued to prey on their mind.’
      • ‘In the past, the bigger the tournament, the more the magnitude of a victory seemed to prey on her mind.’
      • ‘Shortly after Hamilton's discovery of the quaternions his personal life started to prey on his mind again.’
      • ‘You've been waiting in the wings since 2001, but you haven't yet cemented your spot - does that prey on your mind?’
      • ‘Although he was delighted, finally, to learn who his natural mother was, it was not something that had constantly preyed on his mind.’
      • ‘Since it had been mentioned to him on the dock, the thought that pirates had attacked her ship preyed constantly on his mind.’
      oppress, weigh on, weigh heavily on, lie heavy on, burden, be a burden on, be a burden to, hang over, gnaw at
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    fall prey to
    • 1Be caught and killed by (an animal) for food.

      ‘small rodents fell prey to domestic cats’
      • ‘In Northeast China, a Siberian tiger was recently found killed after it fell prey to a trap originally set by the locals for boars.’
      • ‘Many fall prey to poachers who kill them for meat and steal eggs from the corpses to sell as aphrodisiacs.’
      • ‘Eggs and hatchlings are the most vulnerable, falling prey to insects, crustaceans, mollusks, small mammals, birds, other reptiles, and various fishes.’
      1. 1.1Be vulnerable to or overcome by.
        ‘he would often fall prey to melancholy’
        • ‘the settlers become prey to nameless fears’
        • ‘Economic actors, sage and careful in other things, can in some circumstances fall prey to what Frank calls ‘luxury fever.’’
        • ‘Whether or not he formed political opinions on his own, or simply fell prey to the rhetoric of more intelligent people, remains to be seen, although even his loving wife accused him of being extremely naive at times.’
        • ‘I think that she fell prey to someone much more powerful and more cunning than she was and believed everything he said hook, line, and sinker, and she's a victim of crime, the way I see it.’
        • ‘I was at that time subject to normal adolescent laziness, though it was not until much later that I fell prey to the chronic indolence which has caused my lifetime's achievements to have been fairly unremarkable.’
        • ‘Still others were too aged for the hard work of building huts, in addition to which they easily fell prey to the tropical fevers and other diseases spread by the mosquitoes and the brackish water that was the settlers' only supply.’
        • ‘Though not an arborist, I knew that something had to be done to improve the health of our forest, and it had to be done quickly before the bulk of our trees fell prey to disease or drought.’
        • ‘I just fell prey to a feeling of having lost something.’
        • ‘In the absence of civic or infrastructure development, people in Sittilingi, Tamil Nadu, fell prey to numerous preventable diseases.’
        • ‘Marcus Davey, defending, said his client was honest about what happened, saying he simply fell prey to temptation.’
        • ‘But Marcia fell prey to the cancer that would ultimately kill her.’


Middle English (also denoting plunder taken in war): the noun from Old French preie, from Latin praeda ‘booty’, the verb from Old French preier, based on Latin praedari ‘seize as plunder’, from praeda.