Peruse and Some Alternatives

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asked me about the use of the transitive verb peruse:

I have a question please. On the National Geographic Facebook page, they wrote “Today marks the third Earth-year since NASA’s Curiosity rover made its nail-biting descent through Mars’ thin atmosphere, successfully landing on its dusty surface—and plans for the next mission are in the works. Peruse through this gallery to see stellar snapshots of Curiosity’s journey to the red planet.”

Is it supposed to have the “through” or should it be “peruse” only?

I promptly answered: “You are correct. The verb peruse is transitive. It takes an object. The through is redundant.”

When I checked the Ngram Viewer to satisfy myself that “peruse through” would not come up, I was surprised to see that it does register, although barely. I stand by my initial response, that peruse takes an object and is not followed by a preposition. One might “pore over a book” but one “peruses a book.”

Some controversy exists regarding the meaning of peruse. I’d always understood it to mean, “read carefully,” but in researching this post I’ve discovered that it can also mean “look over briefly or superficially.” The latter sense is present in the example from the National Geographic website, in which peruse means “to browse.”

Peruse in the sense of “to examine” entered English from Anglo-Norman French, peruser, in the sense of examining a witness. Peruser does not survive in modern French. English peruse translates into French as “lire attentivement,” literally, “to read attentively.”

Although still in general use, peruse tends to sound old-fashioned, pompous, or jocular. I don’t agree with language critics who insist that peruse must be used only in the sense of “read carefully” and never to mean “to read superficially,” but I do suggest that English has plenty of options for either meaning.

If you are looking for a word or expression that conveys the idea of careful reading or examination, you may choose from these:

read carefully
study
scrutinize
inspect
examine
pore over
wade through

On the other hand, if you want to express the idea of superficial reading, you may choose from these options:

look through
browse
leaf through
scan
run one’s eye over
glance through
skim
thumb through

As for peruse, apparently you may use it to convey either idea. Whichever meaning you attach to it, however, don’t follow it with a prepositional phrase.

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