The Grammarphobia Blog

Seedy endings

Q: I’m often flummoxed when I try to spell words with endings that sound like “seed.” Is there a way to keep these endings straight?

A: Words that end with a “seed” sound are notoriously hard to spell, as Pat notes in her grammar and usage book Woe Is I.

“It helps to keep in mind that all but four end with cede,” she writes. “Three end with ceed, and only one ends with sede.

The cede-less variety consists of “exceed,” “proceed,” “succeed,” and “supersede.”

When in doubt, look it up. But if you don’t have a dictionary handy and you have to guess, the odds are good that the ending is “-cede.”

The “-cede” ending is ultimately derived from cēdere, classical Latin for to go away or give ground, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

So etymologically, “antecede” means to go before, “intercede” to go between, and “recede” to go back, while “cede” and “concede” both mean to give ground or yield.

The “-ceed” ending is similarly derived from cēdere, the OED says, so “exceed” has the etymological sense of to go out, “proceed” to go forward, and “succeed” to go near.

Although the “-sede” ending in “supersede” may have been influenced by cēdere, according to Oxford, it ultimately comes from supersedēre, classical Latin for to sit on top of or abstain.

We published a post a couple of years ago about the difference between “accede” and “concede.” (“Concede” has an element of defeat, while “accede” implies a more ready acceptance.)

In the earlier item, we cite the OED as saying “cede” originally meant “to give way, give place, yield to”—as in “a servant cedes to his master.”

But that sense is now obsolete, the dictionary says, and “cede” now means “to give up, grant; to yield, surrender: esp. to give up a portion of territory.”

The earliest OED citation for the modern sense is from a 1754 travel book by Alexander Drummond:

“That honour was entirely ceded to the Parthian royal race.” (The Parthian Empire, which existed from 247 BC to 224 AD, ruled parts of ancient Iran and Iraq.)

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