It’s always Per Se. Per Say is wrong, even though it may sound and look right.
Derived from Latin, ‘per se’ means ‘in and of itself’. It is used to distinguish between something in its narrower sense and something larger which it represents.
Yes, it’s confusing, and yes I see per se spelled wrong all the time.
The reason people get it wrong is because ‘Say’ is a perfectly valid English word but ‘Se’ is foreign. Per se is just one of those many Latin phrases that get used in the English language.
It also doesn’t help that tools like Grammarly get in a pickle over words like per se vs per say. As I write, Grammarly is busy red underlining per se and suggesting it should be ‘perse’, whilst it thinks ‘per say’ is fine. That’s machines for you!
Blame the Romans, not me 🙂
Examples of per se in Sentences
- This book on agricultural practices in 19th century Ukraine was thought provoking per se, but not relevant to your overall thesis
- John’s new green tie was not garish per se, but definitely clashed badly with the purple suit and red shoes he chose to wear that day
- We didn’t see anyone come into the room, per se, because it was dark
- The serfs didn’t revolt because of legal inequality per se, but because of the stark impacts of that inequality on their lives and deaths.
Hopefully, you’ll never get confused again as to whether or not to use per se or per say. Just remember per se is a Latin phrase and those Romans spelled things funny.