Perspective and Prospective

Commonly Confused Words

This photograph relies on the technique of forced perspective to create an optical illusion. (Steven Xiong/EyeEm/Getty Images)

The words perspective and prospective share the same root (which comes from a Latin word meaning "to look"), but the different prefixes (pre- and pro-) result in different meanings.

Definitions

The noun perspective refers to an attitude, outlook, or point of view. In drawing and painting, perspective refers to a way of portraying spatial relationships on a two-dimensional surface.

The adjective prospective means likely or expected to happen or become in the future.

As Bryan Garner observes in Garner's Modern American Usage (2016), "Misusing perspective for prospective amounts to a malaproprism."

Examples

  • The movie retells the Frankenstein myth from the perspective of the creature.
  • "It is true that people, fruit, and puppies can be drawn without knowledge of perspective, but it becomes invaluable when one needs to draw chairs, fruit bowls, and doghouses."
    (David Chelsea, Perspective! for Comic Book Artists. Watson-Guptill, 1997)
  • Stricter requirements for prospective parents have made international adoptions more difficult.
  • "The patron greeted us with his usual blandness, and the next instant turned to me (his prospective dishwasher) and borrowed five francs."
    (George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933)

Idiom Alerts

  • 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.
    "The $3.5 billion investment is enormous by any measure. Put into perspective, it is bigger than the amount Google raised in its initial public offering of stock in 2004."
    (Michael J. de la Merced, "Saudi Stake in Uber Lifts Advisory Companies to Prime Positions." The New York Times, June 1, 2016)
     
  • The expression from my perspective means "the way I see it" or "from my point of view."
    "I was asked to comment in a meeting once on the topic of listening to children. I said, from my perspective as a grandparent, it was impossible not to listen. I might tune out some of my granddaughter's chatter as we go through the park, but it is impossible not to respond to her lively way of describing what she sees and what she is doing, or to be unimpressed by her vivid interest."
    (Helen Penn, Quality In Early Childhood Services. Open University Press, 2011)

    Practice

    (a) The lawyers from both sides questioned the _____ jurors.

    (b) Studying history can help put the problems of our own time into _____.

    (c) "With the economy stuck in neutral and college prices continuing to rise, _____  students and their parents are looking more closely at how a college will ease the transition into the working world."
    (Jeffrey J. Selingo, College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

    (d) "Collectively we've produced about 800,000 petabytes of digital data here on earth thus far. To put that into _____, in a single petabyte you could fill 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets, or watch 13.3 years' worth of HD TV, or if you're hungry, one petabyte equates to roughly 52 tons of pepperoni pizza. So, 800,000 petabytes constitutes a staggering volume of data and represents a 62 percent growth of digital data creation in a single year."
    (John Lovett, Social Media Metrics Secrets. Wiley, 2011)

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Perspective and Prospective

    (a) The lawyers from both sides questioned the prospective jurors.

    (b) Studying history can help put the problems of our own time into perspective.

    (c) "With the economy stuck in neutral and college prices continuing to rise, prospective students and their parents are looking more closely at how a college will ease the transition into the working world."
    (Jeffrey J.

    Selingo, College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

    (d) "Collectively we've produced about 800,000 petabytes of digital data here on earth thus far. To put that into perspective, in a single petabyte you could fill 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets, or watch 13.3 years' worth of HD TV, or if you're hungry, one petabyte equates to roughly 52 tons of pepperoni pizza. So, 800,000 petabytes constitutes a staggering volume of data and represents a 62 percent growth of digital data creation in a single year."
    (John Lovett, Social Media Metrics Secrets. Wiley, 2011)

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Perspective and Prospective." ThoughtCo, Jun. 2, 2016, thoughtco.com/perspective-and-prospective-1689589. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, June 2). Perspective and Prospective. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/perspective-and-prospective-1689589 Nordquist, Richard. "Perspective and Prospective." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/perspective-and-prospective-1689589 (accessed May 25, 2018).