Perspective vs. Prospective: How to Choose the Right Word

Perspective is a point of view, while prospective is future oriented

Perspective
This photograph relies on the technique of forced perspective to create an optical illusion.

Steven Xiong/EyeEm/Getty Images

The words perspective and prospective are similar, and they share the same root, a Latin word meaning to look. The different prefixes ("per-" and "pro-"), however, result in different meanings. The prefix "per-" means thoroughly or completely, while the prefix "pro-" means before in place or time, or a look forward.

How to Use 'Perspective'

In a general sense, the noun perspective refers to an attitude, an outlook, a set of ideals, a point of view, or a context. In drawing, painting, and photography, however, it refers to a way of portraying (1) three-dimensional spatial relationships on a two-dimensional surface, (2) the angle from which something is viewed, and (3) the proper appearance of objects in relation to each other.

The word came into Middle English from the Latin word perspectivus, meaning to look through.

How to Use 'Prospective'

The adjective prospective is future oriented. It means likely or expected to happen or become in the future—in short, a likely outcome.

The word comes from prospectivus (note the different prefix), a Latin term meaning to look toward the future.

Examples Using 'Perspective'

These sample sentences using perspective will help illustrate the word's meanings:

  • The movie retells the Frankenstein myth from the perspective of the creature. Here perspective means an outlook or point of view.
  • The artist often used perspective to give depth to her street scenes. In this example, the word means an artistic way of adding a third dimension to a two-dimensional work.
  • Studying history can help put the problems of our own time into perspective.This use of perspective means put into context.

Examples Using 'Prospective'

These sentences are examples of the future-looking meaning of prospective:

  • Stricter requirements for prospective parents have made international adoptions more difficult in recent years. This example and the one below illustrate the use of prospective to indicate a likely outcome and a view of a potential future.
  • Sharon was lost in thought, evaluating Brian as a prospective husband, before agreeing to see him again.

Idiomatic Uses of 'Perspective'

Here are some idioms, or expressions using a word such as perspective that are recognized as having different meanings from the literal definition of the word, plus some examples employing them:

  • The expression "to put something in or into perspective" means to look at a subject in a broader context to gain a fair and accurate understanding of it. Arthur's goal was to put the drastic change being proposed for the company's office building into perspective so the team could understand it.
  • The expression "from my perspective" means "the way I see it" or "from my point of view." From my perspective, taking a year off after college would be great for my future.

How to Remember the Difference

One way to remember the distinction between the two words is to recall that people going prospecting are searching for gold that they expect to find in the future. So a miner who sets out for the first time is a prospective gold miner.

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