Ancestor worship is very popular in Asia. Asian people take great care in preserving the memories of their ancestors and honoring them with regular prayers and offerings. Ancestor worship is such an integral part of Asian culture that many would not even recognize it as a religion; it's just a part of life.

Ok, that is the background.

For example, look at this picture. First the person will touch his 2 palms together like in the picture & look at the altar.


Then he will slowly bow down like in this picture.


He, then, may repeat that movement two or more times to pray or worship.

Sometimes, he may do the same but with some burned sticks of incense between their two palms like in this picture.


worship [transitive] worship somebody/something to show respect for God or a god, especially by saying prayers, singing, etc. with other people in a religious building

The Mayans built jungle pyramids to worship their gods.

pray [intransitive, transitive] to speak to God, especially to give thanks or ask for help

They knelt down and prayed.

pray for somebody/something I'll pray for you.

to pray for peace

pray to somebody (for somebody/something) She prayed to God for an end to her sufferings.

pray (that)… We prayed (that) she would recover from her illness.

pray to do something He prayed to be forgiven.

  • speech ‘Please God don't let it happen,’ she prayed.

Do we say he is praying for his grandpa or he is worshiping his grandpa?

  • In my culture the difference between pray to and pray for has more to do with the thoughts/words associated with the prayer than with the motions and gestures associated with the prayer (as indicated in Astralbee's answer below). It would be helpful to know what thoughts/words are in mind of the person praying. If there are no thoughts but only motions, I am not sure that would count as praying but instead worshipping. I think there is a distinction between worshipping and praying that may not be understood by Westerners in this situation.
    – EllieK
    Jun 8, 2022 at 18:27
  • I wouldn’t necessarily say they are praying at all, but rather paying respect.
    – jmoreno
    Jun 17, 2022 at 23:02

1 Answer 1


I think this is partly a theological question rather than purely a language question. I'm going to assume you understand the theology aspect and know what you are trying to express in language.

In English, there is a distinction between "pray for" and "pray to".

Prayers are directed to a god or deity, and what you pray for is the subject matter of your prayer - what you are asking your god to do. For example:

I prayed to God for my brother to get well.

So, in the case of "ancestor worship", I imagine it would depend on whether the theology teaches that your prayer is heard by the ancestor, or whether you are praying to someone else on behalf of the ancestor.

On the matter of "worship" - this is defined as "the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity". In most religions, prayer is considered "an act of worship" - but again, it is an act of worship to the person or deity the prayer is addressed to, not for the subject.

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