Is it “pour over” or “pore over”?

This is Worf. He is a Klingon. And he will help you learn about idioms.

Nancy pours over her Klingon textbook the night before the big test.
Nancy pores over her Klingon textbook the night before the big test.

This is an idiom that confuses many. So which is correct? Pour over or pore over?

Answer: pore over

Etymology
We can find the reason this idiom uses pore instead of pour by looking at the definition and etymology of the two words.

Merriam-Webster defines pore as “to read or study attentively.” Though this word is spelled the same as the word that means those little openings in your skin, it has a different history. It is believed that pore is a combination of two Old English words: spyrian, which means “to investigate,” and spor, which means “a trace.”[i]

Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster defines pour as “to dispense from a container.” As for its etymology, it is believed that pour comes from the Old French verb purer, which means “to sift (grain), pour out (water).” Purer comes from the Latin word purare, which means “to purify.”[ii]

When you look at these differences, you can tell that it should be pore over because this meaning of pore is “to read or study attentively.” If Nancy from our example pours over her textbook, the only thing she’s going to accomplish is getting a wet book. However, if she pores over her textbook, she’s going to accomplish some learning.

Quiz
Do you understand the difference between pour and pore? Test your skills with this quiz. Fill in either pours or pores in the blanks. The answers are at the bottom.

  1. Nancy really wants to learn the Klingon language, so she _______ over her Klingon – English dictionary every night.
  2. Nancy learned a Klingon ritual involving a glass of bloodwine that she _______ over a special basin.
  3. Once the rubbing alcohol _______ over the cut, Nancy’s Klingon battle scar will be disinfected.
  4. Once Nancy _______ over her lecture notes again, she will have a good understanding of the Klingon future tense.

Answers: 1. pores 2. pours 3. pours 4. pores

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3 thoughts on “Is it “pour over” or “pore over”?

  1. Well done, Grammar Party.

    Very scary that that there would be any confusion between pours and pores for anyone whose language of origin is English in its various manifestations: Canadian, American, UK, Australian, New Zealand, to name a few. However, English is a living language and context is important. Could it be that the only time that ‘pores’ comes up today is on TV and that is in relation to skin care and zits? Could it be that it’s a word whose usage is in decline, to fall on the heap of long forgotten and neglected words? Or is it that in general, only a handful of people pore over anything anymore, and those handful of people, today’s scribes — writers, editors and proofreaders, together with the few readers of ancient texts (those written before 1985 1970) will have as part of their job description an activity known as poring?

    Geez. 😉

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