Poring over “Pore” and “Pour”

By Maeve Maddox

Some confusion appears to exist regarding the use of pour and pore.

Charlie complains that he has to pour through stacks of badly-written letters to the editor every day.

In this context the word should be pore. The usual idiom is “to pore over.” Apparently the preposition “through” has entered into use, as in the above quotation, and as in this headline in the New York Times:

Teachers Pore Through Stacks Of Possibilities

The verb pore, with the meaning “examine closely,” may derive from two Old English words, a verb, spyrian, meaning “to investigate, examine,” and a noun, spor, meaning “a trace, vestige.”

The noun pore, meaning “an opening in the skin,” is not related to the verb in the expression “to pore over.” The noun comes from a Greek word meaning “a passageway.”

The verb pour, meaning to transfer water or some other substance from a container, came into English by way of Old French from a Latin verb, purare, “to purify.” In ritual practice, objects are purified by pouring water over them. The English word pure comes from Latin purus, “pure.” The Latin verb came from the Latin noun.

Memory device:

Lore is learning, knowledge, doctrine. To become well-versed in computer lore or the lore of magic, or the lore of religion, one must pore over learned tomes.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


22 Responses to “Poring over “Pore” and “Pour””

  • Deborah

    But Maeve, you left out “poor.” 🙂

    In Texas pore, pour, and poor are all pronounced “poar.” If you have trouble saying poar, remember to move your jaw sideways.

  • Pat

    So I could pour syrup over my waffles and then pore over them to make sure they were covered in syrup.

  • Maeve

    So I did.

    I pronounce poor, tour and moor all the same, and they don’t rhyme with “or,” but on the radio I often hear announcers and others from the East coast pronounce poor and tour as if they did rhyme with or. I thought the “pore” pronunciation for “poor” was a southern thing.

  • Rick Minor

    But…… aren’t over and through both prepositions that are interchangeable ? I’m just a little confused on this.


    Rick Minor

  • Vismay

    Actually, ‘over” and “through” cannot always be used interchangeably.
    “Over” means to go from above it. “Through” means to penetrate.
    But yes in most scenarios they can be used in place of each other.

  • Vismay

    Actually, ‘over” and “through” cannot always be used interchangeably.
    “Over” means to go from above it. “Through” means to penetrate.
    But yes in most scenarios they can be used in place of each other.

  • Rick Minor

    Thank you Vismay. I’ve had a head cold for over a week and the “lights” are still not on yet.

  • Zrah

    I suspect “pore through” has come about as a confused version of “paw through”…

  • carol cherry

    I could pore over my poor pores and then pour pure water over them?

  • lily

    sometimes the english language is just ridiculous.

  • Maeve

    Isn’t life?

  • Barbara Youree

    Wow! That’s pretty impressive—being cited in the WSJ!!!! Congrats! And that’s a pretty impressive e-book to boot!

  • Maeve

    Thanks for the enthusiasm.

    For those readers who don’t know what you mean about the WSJ:
    an article in the Wall Street Journal contains a link to this post about “pore” and “pour.”


  • Lauren

    I knew it wasn’t “pour”, but was wondering if it was “paw”. Was leaning towards “pore” though, so thanks for clearing that up.

  • heather

    You settled an argument (friendly) that we had at our family Christmas gathering. Thanks… even though this means I lost. But, who has really lost who has gained knowledge?

  • schmoo

    paw – is either an animal paw, or to handle clumsily/sexually etc.
    pore – is either a small hole (in skin etc), or to study/meditate/read. A porer.
    I pawed my way over the mountain of books to find a good one to pore through.
    I’m off to pour a drink for a very poor pauper. lol

    Thanks for posting these tips – it’s all a lot clearer to me now (although I still like to think one can paw through a book to read/meditate/focus … like people who read with a guiding finger!)

  • Haley

    What if I want to say: “I’m looking forward to getting to know your kids, and pour/pore into their lives”?

  • DJ

    Actually, it metaphorically makes sense to “pour” over something since you are encompassing it, steeping in it, penetrating the inner meanings, communing with it, flowing over every speck of it, etc…..

    “Pore” does not connote the same as “pour” in this sense, so I object to “pour” being thrown outright.


  • Dan

    The dermatologist pored over the poor kid’s pores after pouring himself a bowl of porridge. Am I doing this right?

  • George

    Interesting. I’m wiser, I guess. I’m with DH as I always thought that it was “pour” over, as in pouring yourself or your mind or focus into something, figuratively of course. Furthermore, we use other water related figures of speech like “dip into” or “wade through” to similar effect. This is going swimmingly.

  • luke

    I remember the pour/pore distinction by thinking about what you use to pore through pages; namely your pored paw. wahoah, confusing.

  • Pud

    (from 5 years ago I know)

    I’ve always pronounced pore pour and poor the same. and moor/more
    Like “or”
    and tour manure like “oo-er”

    @Dan, I think you nailed it.

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