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Commonly Confused Words: Accept vs. Except


Happy New Year, everyone!

To help those of you with spelling-related New Year’s resolutions, we’re going to start the year with a series of posts on commonly confused words. Here at Spellzone we believe that looking at the origins of a word can be really beneficial when trying to get your head around its spelling and meaning – and today we’ll start by taking a look at the words ‘accept’ and ‘except’. Make sure you check out our blog archive for previous posts on other commonly confused words.

What does each word mean?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines the word ‘accept’ as: ‘consent to receive or undertake (something offered)’, to ‘believe or come to recognise (a proposition) as valid or correct’, or to ‘tolerate or submit to (something unpleasant or undesired)’.

Here is the word used in some example sentences:

  • She accepted his marriage proposal.
  • He accepted that he’d made a mistake.
  • She accepted that in order to be good at spelling she would need to keep practising.

Click here for the Spellzone wordlists which feature this word.

The word ‘except’ is defined by the OED as ‘not including’ or ‘other than’.

Here is the word used in some example sentences:

  • I practise my spelling every day except for Saturday.
  • The spelling rule is: ‘I before E, except after C’.
  • I told him his writing was good, except for his spelling.

Click here for the Spellzone wordlists which feature this word.

Where does each word come from?

The word ‘accept’, according the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from the Old French ‘accepter’, which is from the Latin ‘acceptare’ and means to ‘take or receive willingly’.

Except’ is from the Middle French ‘excepter’, which is from the Latin ‘excipere’ which means ‘take out’. In this case, the ‘ex’ part of the word means ‘out’, and the ‘capere’ part of the word means ‘to take’ and it’s when you put them together that you get the meaning ‘to take out’. This is useful when thinking about other ‘ex-’ words: ‘export’ means to take goods out of a country, ‘excavate’ means to dig something out of the ground, an ‘ex-partner’ is someone you are out of a partnership with…you get the idea!

Are there any mnemoics to help remember the difference between these words?

Some people find it helpful to think of the word ‘accept’ as another way of saying ‘agree’ which shares the same first letter. Let’s try our example sentences with the word ‘agree’ instead of the word ‘accept’:

  • She agreed his marriage proposal.
    This doesn’t quite work, but if we change the wording a little we get:
  • She agreed to marry him.

  • He agreed that he’d made a mistake.
  • She agreed that in order to be good at spelling she would need to keep practising.

Now let’s try substituting ‘except’ with ‘agree’:

  • I practise my spelling every day agree for Saturday.
  • The spelling rule is: ‘I before E, agree after C’.
  • I told him his writing was good, agree for his spelling.

While the first group of sentences make sense, the second group of sentences don’t mean anything. As a rule, if you can get the word ‘agree’ to work in your sentence, you need to use the word that begins with ‘a’ – so accept, rather than except.

What words do you always mix up? Leave a comment, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook, and we’ll try and incorporate your suggestions into our series.

Happy Spelling!

Avani Shah


06 Jan 2014
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