Etymology Usage


Q: Having taken Latin for a number of years, I’m fastidious about using “per” in English. Yet I often see “as per” where I would use simply “per,” as in this sentence: “Per your instructions, I have enclosed an extra copy of my curriculum vitae.” I can’t think of an instance in which “as per” is correct. Can you?

A: “Per” is a very versatile preposition—in English as well as in Latin (where its meanings include through, all over, during, by means of, and for the sake of).

In English, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.), the word has these meanings:

“1. To, for, or by each; for every: Gasoline once cost 40 cents per gallon. 2. According to; by: Changes were made to the manuscript per the author’s instructions. 3. By means of; through.”

(An example of that rather archaic meaning in the third definition would be “Letters take a week per Pony Express.”)

As for your question, the short answer is yes. It’s not incorrect, as you suggest, to precede “per” with “as.” That second example from American Heritage could just as well read “as per the author’s instructions.”

In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary says that “per” is “usually preceded by as” in English when the meaning is “according to,” or “as stated, indicated, or directed by.”

One of the OED’s early citations is from a 16th-century treatise on accounting methods, James Peele’s The Pathe Way to Perfectnes, in th’ Accomptes of Debitour, and Creditour (1569):

“Readie monie by him paide oute for goodes … and alowed to him self as per his accompte receaued [account received].”

Tobias Smollett used the same construction in his novel The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771): “This pair of boots, bran new, cost me thirty shillings, as per receipt.”

And Oscar Wilde used “as per” in an 1884 business letter: “There are a few printer’s errors in my article on Dress, which … I would like to have corrected, as per enclosed.”

Finally, here’s an example from Zuleika Dobson, Max Beerbohm’s 1911 satirical novel about undergraduate life at Oxford: “How many of you can be turned out, as per sample, in England?”

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