Skip to Content

How to Properly Use the Phrase “Per Se” in a Sentence

How to Properly Use the Phrase “Per Se” in a Sentence

Like many Latin terms, “per se” is commonly misused or incorrectly used in English. The phrase has turned into a conversational buzzword of sorts, with people using it to fill in space between ideas. As a result, the term has been adapted into various correspondences without complete or proper consideration for its meaning.

To properly use “per se” in a sentence, make sure it comes naturally to you or the term flows through when you write or speak. And for that to happen, you must know the phrase’s exact meaning. Most people misuse the term because they don’t know what it stands for and the context to use it in.

Because “per se” is used so extensively in writings and speech, it’s easy to err when using it in writings or oral communication. Fortunately, correcting those errors or learning to rectify them so that future mistakes are mitigated is not that difficult. Keep reading to learn how the phrase gets misused often, to correctly use the phrase in sentences and lots more.

per se sign held by hand on phone

“Per Se” – Definition

The phrase “per se” is used to denote a thing by itself. It’s a “qualifier” that enhances the impact of certain words on a sentence’s intended message. It’s a Latin term with no real significance as a standalone phrase. Its weight shows when used to introduce a concept or point in a sentence. And since the phrase has Latin origins, it could be italicized in certain texts.

“Per” stands for “through, by”; and “se” means “itself, herself, himself, themselves”. When put together, the phrase almost accurately translates as “inherently”. The phrase is often used to take a thing out of a given context or highlight it so that it could be described individually.

Other words or phrases for “per se” include:

  • Intrinsically
  • In essence
  • As such
  • Essentially
  • By its exact nature

Getting to know the phrase’s synonyms is an effective way to understand the meaning of the phrase better.

And if you’re wondering why should you use a Latin term such as “per se” when there are so many alternative words with English origins, you do not understand how languages work.

Like most other languages, the English language has no word or phrase with a unique meaning. In other words, if a word or phrase means a certain thing, it surely will have an alternative word(s) that would mean the exact same thing.

How to Properly Use “Per Se” in a Sentence

“Per se” comes in helpful when a certain element of a larger thing has to be singled out. It could be a solid addition, simplifying a sentence.

For instance:

  • The music, per se, wasn’t bad; it’s the picturization that ruined it all.

The above sentence means the music was not bad by itself, but the way it was shot and presented on screen made it bad overall.

Here is another sentence:

  • I am not a vegan per se, but I mostly stay away from dairy and meat.

The sentence indicates the subject has not banished meat and dairy from their diet as a rule, but he/she chooses to steer clear of non-vegan food as much as possible.

Is “Per Se” a Negative Phrase?

Generally, the phrase is viewed as a negative item, or it’s usually restricted to negative contexts. There are, however, a few acceptable positive implementations.

One of the primary functions of “per se” is in the “contrast”. Contrast is usually negative, but at times it could seem to have a slightly positive tone. Unlike completely negative items such as “any”, “per se” tends to be slightly accommodative of positive contexts. Here are a couple of sentences that use “per se” with no negative elements:

  • I ordered only a milkshake, but it felt more like a complete meal per se.
  • The eatery makes wonderful herb butter, but its bread is delightful per se.

Though the sentences above do not flow particularly well and can do without “per se”, the point to take home is positive sentences with “per se” is remotely possible. Needless to say, using the phrase “per se” in negative contexts reads and sounds more natural and at home.

Not Using the Phrase at All

There’s another way of correctly using the phrase in your writings – which is to not use the phrase. If the usage of the term sounds or reads a bit clumsy, you are better off not using it. For example:

  • The numbers per se do not bother me.
  • The numbers do not bother me.

Some writers believe that using “per se” in sentences is incorrect and makes sentences weak – both of which are not true.

Though the above sentence without the “per se” is grammatically okay and doesn’t lose the true essence of its message, it lacks the emphasis on “numbers” that the sentence above it communicates. With the emphasis on “numbers”, it indicates numbers by themselves do not bother the subject.

Here is another example:

  • The inclusion of mackerel per se won’t make the otherwise average meal a great one.
  • The inclusion of mackerel won’t make the otherwise average meal a great one.

The sentence with “per se” clearly communicates mackerel fish by itself will not make the meal any better and that a few other items need to be added. The second sentence doesn’t try to emphasize that point.

Is Used to ‘Express’

The phrase “per se” can be useful in different scenarios. However, people commonly use it to express themselves. For example:

  • When expressing habits: “I am not a dancer per se, but I certainly tend to go all out on the floor every time I get an opportunity.”
  • When expressing your opinion: It isn’t the greatest movie ever made per se, but it’s certainly among the best films of this year.

As mentioned before, the two sentences right above can also do without “per se”. Just read them without “per se” and they would read perfectly fine. However, with “per se” thrown in, the sentences read or sound a tad more colorful. The listener or reader will get the message that you’re being precise.

per se sign on keyboard

Using a Comma(s) with “Per Se”

Mostly, a comma is not used before “per se” since the phrase doesn’t indicate a pause before it. For example:

  • He is not a doctor per se.

When you read the above sentence aloud, do you feel the need to pause after “doctor”? You should most likely not. If you’re still not sure, try replacing “per se” in the sentence with words such as “exactly” and “as such”. Now read the sentence again, “He is not a doctor as such/exactly“.

If you still feel there should be a slight pause, go ahead and add the comma. It may not be grammatically incorrect to do so, but it would certainly not look right. And since most people are likely to not feel the need for the comma, they may point that out to you in the comments section.

Also, “per se” is not followed by a comma. Several writers, both amateurs and established authors tend to use commas after the phrase or resort to parenthetical commas with “per se”. The following sentences should not have “per se” with the comma(s):

  • A good book critic isn’t, per se, an equally good or better writer.
  • However, chronology per se, isn’t relevant.
  • This is because images of actions and not the actions per se, were utilized.
  • Quite obviously, factors other than concentrations and composition of sugar, and the physical traits of the glasses per se, impact how long the seed can be stored.
  • There is almost no proof that neglect or early deprivation, per se, can impact stress-sensitive neuroendocrine activities over a period.
  • The historical context in which a storm happens could be equally important, if not more, than the storm’s intensity, per se.

However, if the sentence would have had a comma even if there was no “per se” in it, it’s alright to use the comma. For example:

  • The focus isn’t on the design elements per se, but the geometric organization of things.
  • Most authors were not very keen in the literature per se, but in the rationalizing sixteenth-century concerns with commerce, governance, law, and property.
  • Experience doesn’t derive from the activity of the brain per se, but it’s connected more with the act of “doing” things.
  • It is these aspects and not extended breastfeeding per se, which lead to diarrheal disease and malnutrition.
  • There is no more financial assistance for agriculture and farming per se, and the sector is competing at the global level finally.
  • What matters the most isn’t the achievement per se, but how much of it has been attained independently.

The above sentences would have had a comma even if “per se” were to be taken out. The usage of commas in them, therefore, is perfectly fine.

Usually, when you’re not sure about using a comma or any other form of punctuation with “per se”, it’s recommended to not use it. But if you do feel the need, like in the above sentences, throw in the comma(s).

Is “Per Se” a Formal Phrase?

“Per se” isn’t informal or unprofessional per se (no pun intended). It, in fact, is quite a formal expression. But since it’s a Latin term and there is the possibility of using the phrase incorrectly, usage of the term in formal texts could come across as inappropriate.

There are certain formal environments where certain words or phrases may not be acceptable. For instance, in academic writing, it’s recommended to use an alternative word(s) for “per se” if you’re not sure the phrase would clearly and concisely communicate the message.

In legal documents, “per se” is quite commonly used. In fact, the term is so formal in the legal world that when implemented outside of legal scenarios, it could come across a tad too over-formal and slightly pretentious.

If you’re writing something non-legalese, look for another word or phrase substituting “per se”. And if you’re not a native English speaker, it’s highly advised you get a lot more acquainted with the phrase before incorporating it into your sentences, because that way you’ll not be misusing the term.

How is “Per Se” Misused

Writers and most other people make errors with “per se” when they try to forcibly inject the phrase into their sentences when regular words or phrases such as “necessarily” could have effortlessly done the job. For example:

  • She was not agitated, per se, she just was not happy about how things went.

In the above sentence, “per se” could have been easily avoided and the word “as such” would have fit in more naturally.

Also, the phrase is often incorrectly used in place of the phrase “so to speak”. This error is usually made during oral conversations as the usage sounds natural and flows well. However, when you put down the sentence in writing, the error glares at you. For example:

  • I will let you in only because you’re family already, per se.

The words “so to speak” would be correct if used in place of “per se” in the above sentence. In case you’re wondering, “so to speak” is a phrase that indicates the usage of words figuratively and not in a literal way.

Also, it’s “per se” and not “per say”. Though this spelling error is too obvious to make, there are some who end up using the wrong spelling as the two phrases sound identical when pronounced.

Having said that, not everybody who makes such spelling gaffes can be blamed entirely for it. At times, the word processor they use could be the reason for the mishap. Since “per se” is a Latin term, some spell-check programs may not permit usage of the term – particularly, the “se” part.

Though some of the programs highlight the mistake, quite a few could auto-correct the word “se” to “say”, making it difficult for the writer to detect the spelling blunder. Those who send their texts across for a round of editing manage to escape unscathed. But the ones who proofread their copies themselves and that too right after writing the piece end up affected.

Example Sentences with the Phrase “Per Se”

Here is a wide range of sentences using the phrase “per se”:

  • Your text on the genre’s ethics is intriguing per se, but it’s not relevant to the overall discussion at hand.
  • The motorbike was not showy per se; the paint job, however, badly clashed with the brightly colored houses on the street.
  • The opposition party could attack the president’s policies not because they disagree with the policies per se, but purely because they want to destabilize the president.
  • It’s quite clear that licensing the adult entertainment industry is not a violation of the original amendment per se.
  • Some people claim that the hangovers caused by drinking are not due to the alcohol per se, but the impure constituents present in the drink.
  • It isn’t an art gallery per se, but it certainly has some interesting pieces.
  • The law renders driving under the influence illegal per se.
  • A published piece of writing that wrongly accuses an individual of being a criminal is slander per se.
  • It isn’t the money per se, but the ever-increasing human desire.
  • I am not saying she was totally dishonest per se, but she did fail to address certain undisclosed facts.
  • I do not have any major issues with Chinese cuisine per se, but the fact that I feel hungry in an hour after having Chinese food is something I am not particularly stoked about.
  • The personality of an individual is not based on per se their physique or external appearance but on their attitude and the way they carry themselves.
  • The controlled studies concluded that the sharing of beds per se does not pose risks to infants.
  • The meetings did not focus much on currency valuation per se.
  • Not rooting for them per se, but I am certainly feeling bad for Mark’s omission from the squad.
  • As pointed out before, this truly is a tale of sensationalism and shoddy journalism, and not what’s truly happening in society per se.
  • These policies’ salient features aren’t the racism per se but the smartly designed divisiveness.
  • Such a legislation change per se can’t be deemed unconstitutional even if no further invalidity is present.
  • The threat associated with pain is usually debilitating than the physical agony per see.

yellow type writer


In the English language, certain words and phrases are not required in a sentence but adding them assists with the sentences’ flow and enriching the statement.

Whether “per se” is standard English or acceptable in formal writing may be up for debate, but the fact that it adds a certain flair to sentences is something that cannot be denied. If you want your sentences to sound or read smart, throwing in a “per se” would definitely up your statements’ suave quotient.

Use “per se” in your writing without inhibitions if it is a true representation of your writing skills or vocabulary. If, however, the phrase doesn’t come naturally to you and you’re trying to push it in, you should reconsider using the phrase or look to incorporate substitute word(s). Most importantly, ensure using the phrase doesn’t cause misinterpretation.