Shall we proceed?

If you’re taking a break from your day to check your email and aren’t sure if you should proceed or precede with reading this one, we’re here to help (and that means yes, you should keep reading).

If you’ve confused these two words, you’re not alone. “Precede” and “proceed” are near homophones and have similar meanings. But they aren’t interchangeable. So how do you keep their definitions straight?

You can’t do it by looking at their suffixes. Words that end in -cede or -ceed come from the Latin cedere, meaning “to go, move away, withdraw or yield.” Many words in English were formed by adding a prefix to -cede or -ceed. “Secede” means to withdraw from. “Succeed” can mean to come after, as in “she was succeeded by.” And of course, you can “cede” your time.

So why do we have both -cede and -ceed? It has to do with their pathways to English, not the meaning. Words ending in -cede came from Latin to English by way of French, while -ceed words went through Middle English instead.

That leaves us with the prefixes, and that’s your key to remembering the difference. The “pro” in “proceed” means “forward” (think “progress”), while the “pre” in “precede” means “before” (think “preface”).

And there you have it: “Proceed” means to move forward, to continue action, or to come forth from something. “Precede” means to go before, be earlier than, or surpass in rank, dignity or importance.

"Precede" and "proceed" have different meanings. "Precede" means to come before: "A stunned moment of silence preceded the thunderous applause." "Proceed" means to begin or continue an action: "They wanted to double-check the instructions before proceeding with the setup."

All right, now that you know, you can proceed with your day.

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