Prospective vs. Perspective And Other P-Words Worth Knowing

The Jesus Cow, and the use of preternatural. It means beyond what is normal or natural; extraordinary, exceptional, remarkable. A friend has been urging me to write about the difference between prospective and perspective because an announcer she listens to often — on National Public Radio, no less — apparently keeps getting it wrong.

While I’m in the p’s, I’m going to clarify one word — peruse — and add a couple I see from time to time that I don’t consider part of everyday conversations: prescient and preternatural. Hey, it never hurts to be a word or two ahead of the crowd!

prospective vs. perspective
Prospective refers to something in the future that is likely or expected to happen:

Deanna is my prospective daughter-in-law.
Prospective 2015 earnings should surpass those of 2014.
Of three prospective buyers, only one submitted an offer.

Perspective can relate to spatial relationships, or it can relate to looking at something in a particular way or having a certain point of view:

Please provide an aerial as well as a linear perspective of the shopping complex you propose to build.
What’s your perspective on self-employment?
Although you express your ideas with conviction, they lack perspective.

I used to think peruse meant to skim, to give something a quick once-over. It means the opposite: to read carefully or examine in a thorough way.

Please peruse the report and provide me with a one-page summary.

I had a sense about this word, pronounced PRESH-ent, before I encountered it in a book I recently finished by one of my favorite Wisconsin authors, Michael Perry.

Prescient means having or showing knowledge of events before they take place; intuitive or visionary. Perry’s The Jesus Cow combines religion and humor (yes, they can go together) in a delightful way.

If you’ve read any of Perry’s other books or heard him speak, you don’t have to be prescient to expect humor and tantalizingly good writing throughout this one.

Another p-word from The Jesus Cow, preternatural is one I don’t come across often. It means beyond what is normal or natural; extraordinary, exceptional, remarkable. Pronounce it as you would Peter + natural, but insert an r after the p.

White animals have mythological implications, and Perry has woven a story about the preternatural birth of a calf with its own special characteristics.

There you have it: My friend can forward this blog link to her favorite radio announcer; talented Michael Perry now has a bit more exposure to his intriguing stories; and we’ve mastered what, for at least some of us, are insights into some useful p-words.

Have a topic you’d like me to cover? Let me hear from you. Meanwhile, share this with other grammar enthusiasts.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)