To prescribe is to advise or recommend someone to do something, or to impose something authoritatively.
A doctor can prescribe a certain medicine for you (recommend that you take it) by writing you a prescription for it (i.e. its name and details of how you should take it), to be given to a pharmacist.
In addition, he may prescribe (advise) that you take some exercise, e.g. a brisk walk for half an hour daily, for your general health.
When a law prescribes something, it means it imposes something authoritatively on everyone in the country. For example, in certain countries, the law prescribes that parents are responsible for the actions of their non-adult children. So if their children do something against the law, the parents are taken to court and tried.
To proscribe something, on the other hand, means to forbid something through the law of a country, or regulations of certain bodies.
For example, athletes taking part in Olympic games are proscribed from taking certain drugs to improve their performance.
As the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995) points out, it is important to see the difference between prescribed drugs (recommended by a doctor) and proscribed drugs (banned substances).
(courtesy of thestar.com.my)
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