Per se

The loan phrase per se comes from the Latin itself, and in modern English it’s usually an adjective meaning in itself, by itself, of itself, or intrinsically. Unlike most adjectives in English, per se usually follows the word it modifies, as in these examples:

The best controlled studies conclude that bed-sharing per se does not put infants at risk. [Sacramento Bee]

Our astonishment exists per se and isn’t based on comparison with something else. [Wisława Szymborska]

For the most part, the meetings focused less on currency levels per se and more on the underlying trade imbalances. [Business Insider]

6 thoughts on “Per se”

  1. In the second sentence ‘ Our astonishment exists per se——-, it modifies a verb ‘exist’. Is it then adjective or adverb?

    • One way to look at it is to use the translations provided above. “Our astonishment exists intrinsically” = adverb
      “Our astonishment exists by itself” = prepositional phrase qualifying how it exists.
      Overall in this example, I’d say it functions as an adverb.
      You might notice that the nouns in the other examples are the objects of prepositional phrases, while the “astonishment” is a subject “existing.”

  2. I had to go to court a few years ago for a car accident where i hit a tractor sitting sideways in the middle of the road around a blind curve. The hillbilly cop who issued me two tickets because he knew the farmer was testifying against me. He said “per se” about 7-9 times in the span of 10 minutes; I had to pinch my friend (witness) standing next to me to get her to stop laughing. The judge even snickered on one of them. Not only was it redundant, he didn’t use it correctly once. All I could keep thinking was, “If I get convicted, I’m gonna kick him right in his per se.” Needless to say all charges were dismissed and he was quite embarrassed. I refuse to use the phrase to this day and laugh every time I hear it.

    • People who think they’ve got to “ratchet up” their speech when in court or on TV (or, God forbid, both) usually end up waving their ignorance like a banner. Just say it, dammit. We know your socioeconomic position already and we don’t care! Some of us find different speech registers, regional accents and idiomatic expressions charming as well as interesting. Not to ridicule or condemn someone, PER SE.


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