Image of a yellow hard hat with the word "prudent"
Be prudent and protect that precious cranium of yours.


What does “prudent” mean?

Part of Speech: adjective

Pronunciations: IPA: /ˈpru.dnt/ Glossary-style: [PROO-dnt]

Definition: wise, intelligent, or careful in practical matters. careful about making decisions and about how one behaves.

Example: During times of financial hardship, people should make prudent decisions about how to spend their money and avoid such indulgences as eating out and going on vacation.

Discussion: “prudent” is a fairly common word, so you should be familiar with it. When we describe someone as prudent, we are saying that that person is generally careful or cautious and tends to make good judgements. A prudent person would be also be careful to adhere to social customs defining behavior. The prudent way of doing things tends to be the safest way, so prudence is not a quality greatly admired in such professions as gambling, managing hedge funds, acting, and magic. (Of course, there are exceptions.)

Some examples: Depositing money into a savings account is more prudent than buying lottery tickets. Majoring in Engineering is probably more prudent than studying Philosophy if you’re eager to land a conventional, well-paying right after you graduate from college. (I was a liberal arts major in college, just for the record.) Bicycling on a busy highway with traffic is not prudent, nor is jaywalking.

N.B. While it may seem that the word “prudent” and “prude” are etymologically related since each word connotes a sense of reservation, they are not. The former derives from the Latin “providere”, which means, not surprisingly, provide, while the latter derives from the Old French “prud”, which means virtuous or proud.

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