Prone or supine?

03 Jul

I have found these words being mixed up in all sorts of contexts, from instructions to posters, and in all sorts of texts. I’ve also needed to look up which is which when following exercise or yoga instructions! Do you know the difference between prone and supine and do you use them appropriately? Or are they in fact different in the end at all?

Here’s another in my series of Troublesome Pairs to help you (and remember: if you have one for me, check the index then do send it over!).

Prone and supine both mean lying flat. But which way up, that’s the question.

Prone means lying flat, especially face downwards (Oxford Dictionaries). Collins online goes straight to the face-down aspect. Merriam-Webster have it as lying prostrate (adjective) or flat, and a second definition of lying front-downwards. According to all three of them, prostrate means lying flat with the face downwards (you prostrate yourself in front of an emperor, an altar, etc., so that makes sense, and Merriam-Webster, which is bigger than my one-volume Oxford, adds the air of worship to its definition, while Collins adds it to a definition of “prostrating yourself”).

Supine is unequivocably defined as lying flat, face upwards.

So prone can mean lying flat OR lying flat, face downards, prostrate adds an air of worship or respect and supine only means lying flat, face upwards.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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8 responses to “Prone or supine?

  1. Mitch

    July 3, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    This is something that took me ages to grok, and even now I occasionally question myself. The terms are used in climbing but when they are the concept of “flat” usually means the vertical wall 😊


    • Liz Dexter

      July 4, 2019 at 7:44 am

      That’s so interesting! See the comment below for a good way to remember the difference, but I love that the “flat” isn’t always what you’d imagine!


  2. John HOLMES

    July 4, 2019 at 2:56 am

    A simple aide memoire. A supine hand holds a bowl of soup.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Liz Dexter

      July 4, 2019 at 7:44 am

      That’s brilliant, thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mitchell Kent

      July 4, 2019 at 12:24 pm

      That is indeed great, thank you 🙂
      Mine is a little more coarse: I am prone to falling down face-first ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I realise you can equally fall backwards, but the visual of it for me is always face down 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Rae Reads

    July 6, 2019 at 2:44 am

    Very helpful. TY



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