Deprave - deprive

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The two verbs 'to deprave' and 'to deprive' and their derivatives can be confused, chiefly because the basic (root) words differ in only one letter. To confuse the verbs themselves is a simple failure of vocabulary, but when the second vowel is not stressed, as in some of the derivatives, it becomes a mere schwa, a vowel-sound that may be represented by all the vowel letters in English. Spelling these words can in itself become problematic.

  • 'To deprave' (pronounced as seems natural in English, IPA: /də 'preɪv/) is used essentially of human individuals and their characters, occasionally their institutions or groupings, and means 'to make [morally] bad', 'to pervert ', 'to corrupt'. It is a term of moral judgement.
    • Depravity (stressed on the second syllable, 'dep-RAVV-it-y', IPA: /də 'præv ɪ tɪ/) gives no usual trouble in spelling. It is the abstract noun linked with the verb: 'the state of being depraved', 'the state of having been depraved'. ('Depravity', along with the -ed participle depraved, is the most common derivative of 'to deprave'.)
  • 'To deprive' (/də 'praɪv/) means 'to prevent [someone] having', 'to keep [someone] from possessing [or enjoying the benefits, etc, of] something'. (The usual structure is 'to deprive [someone] of [something]'.) Poverty deprives some children of their education; a murderer may deprive a young person of the best years of life; and left-wing politicians may accuse right-wing governments of depriving the poor of income. The -ed participle is often used in a general sense to mean 'poor': a charity may exist to give holidays to deprived children, for example.
    • Deprivation, the associated abstract noun (stressed on the third syllable, 'de-priv-EH-shun' IPA: /ˌdɛ prɪ ˈveɪ ʃən/, means 'being in a state where one has lost goods', and more generally 'poor'. It is less often used to mean 'the action of depriving', as in Benjamin Jowett's translation of Plato's Dialogues (ed. 2, 1875) III. 260 (cited OED): "The loss of a son or brother, or the deprivation of fortune," where it appears to mean 'the taking away by fortune of a loved male relative'.
('To deprive' and 'deprivation', etc, have precise meanings in church government: taking someone out of his ecclesiastical position or office as a punishment or form of discipline.)
People sometimes write depravation, because the second syllable, being unstressed, is pronounced in all but the most careful speech as a schwa (IPA: /ə/), the loosest of vowel sounds in English, and one that can be spelled with any vowel letter.
'depravation' IS AN ERROR.
The only correct way to write the noun is deprivation.
For a similar error, see quantatative (error).
      • Privations (usually, as here, in the plural; pronounced like 'deprivation', IPA: /prɪ ˈveɪ ʃən/, GA /praɪ ˈveɪ ʃən/) currently means 'shortage of necessary things', 'hardship'. 'want of food, shelter and heat, etc'. Napoleon's Grand Army suffered terrible privations during its retreat from Moscow during the winter of 1812, when it lost over three quarters of its men, mostly through starvation, cold and the consequent disease. (In late Middle English, 'to prive' and 'privation' were common forms of 'deprive' and 'deprivation'.)
You may want to see the etymological note at private - privation - privity - privy.