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Mnemonic devices can guarantee greater accuracy in spelling certain English words.

Before you read this section about mnemonics, please STOP here NOW, and take a “pre-test” over the words that will be discussed. Even if you do well on this test, you may still come back for the presentation. So, please go to (click on) the Mnemonics "Seed" Quiz over -cede, -ceed, -sede words to see how well you can spell words that have the endings that are pronounced “seed”.

How to decide between -cede, -ceed, and -sede.

The spelling of many English words is confusing even to those whose first language is English.

Problems: Is it supercede, superceed, or supersede? Is it accede or acceed? Is it proceed or preceed, and is it excede or exceed?

  • Let’s examine the simple facts and basic principles behind the spelling patterns of all of the English words that end with the pronunciation of seed. There are just twelve words that have the seed pronounced endings.
  • To avoid doubt and confusion, to be able to make an instantaneous, self-assured, and accurate decision on the spelling of any word whose final syllable is pronounced seed, you have to know two things:

    1. Of the twelve words, one, and only one, ends in the four letters -S-E-D-E. That one word is supersede
    Supersede, is the only word in the entire English language that is spelled with the -sede ending.

    Supersede was born in Rome thousands of years ago. It comes from Latin super, “above”, and sedeo, “to sit”.

    If one thing supersedes another, it figuratively, and by derivation, “sits above or over it”; that is, “it replaces” something. An example: “The year 2000 will supersede 1999.”

    Supersede is the only verb in English that derives directly from Latin sedeo, to sit, hence the only word with the -sede termination.

    There are many nouns and adjectives that come indirectly from sedeo or one of its forms:

    president, one who sits before a group;
    sedentary, moving little, hence sitting, as in a sedentary occupation;
    session, a sitting or meeting of a group of people;
    sedate, calm, hence sitting still, etc.

    2. There are three other unique words that you should learn, the three words that end in the letters -C-E-E-D: succeed, proceed, and exceed.

  • These two facts, that only supersede ends in -sede, and that only succeed, proceed, and exceed end in -ceed, permit you to make an immediate and correct choice between -sede, -ceed, and -cede.
  • Obviously, with two of the three possible spellings accounted for, the eight remaining words of the original twelve can end in only one way: -C-E-D-E.
  • 3. It’s unnecessary that you learn what these eight words are or that you learn how to spell all or any of them because you know that they all end with -cede.
  • For your information, here are the eight words:

    accede, to give consent; to become a party to an agreement or treaty.

    antecede, to precede; that is, to come before in time or order.

    cede, to surrender possession of formally or officially; to yield or grant, as by a treaty.

    concede, 1. To acknowledge as true, just, or proper, often unwillingly; to admit by conceding the point. 2. To give or grant as a privilege or right.

    intercede, to argue on another’s behalf; to act as a mediator in a dispute; to come between.

    precede, to come before in time, in rank, or order.

    recede, to move back or away from a limit, point, or mark.

    secede, to withdraw formally from membership in an association, organization, or alliance, especially a political one.

  • How can you remember that succeed, proceed, and exceed belong in a class by themselves, and are not to be confused with the eight -cede words? How can you fix these three crucial verbs permanently in your mind, nail them down for all time?

  • Keep these facts in mind:

    Succeed starts with “s”.
    Proceed starts with “p”, and means go ahead.
    Exceed starts with “e”.

  • Now think of, and remember, the key phrase: “Full Speed Ahead”. This one phrase, Full Speed Ahead, and in particular the word speed, will be your guarantee against two unpleasant possibilities:

    1. Any annoying doubt as to whether a word correctly ends in -ceed or -cede.

    2. Any error in writing -cede for -ceed, or vice versa.

  • Notice how simply this mnemonic works:

    Speed ends in -eed.
    The “s” of speed identifies succeed.
    The “p” of speed identifies proceed.
    The “e” of speed identifies exceed.
    The ending of speed identifies the endings of all three words: succeed, proceed, exceed.
    Finally, the word “ahead” in “Full Speed Ahead” identifies proceed, which means “go ahead”, and eliminates “precede”, which means “come before”.

  • There is one irregularity that you should be aware of:

    Proceed, as you know, belongs to one of the three -ceed verbs, but the noun and adjective forms do not follow the same format. Contrary to what you might normally expect, these forms are spelled: procedure and procedural.

  • That’s all there is to the problem of making a choice between -cede, -ceed, and
  • Here are the basic principles again:

    Only one word in English ends in -sede, namely supersede.

    Only three words in English end in -ceed, namely succeed, proceed, and exceed (mnemonic: Full speed Ahead).

    All of the other words with a similar “seed” sound end in -cede.

    Procedure and procedural; however, do not follow the pattern of proceed.

    Now is a good time to test yourself.

    Would you like to see if the mnemonic devices I have given to you function properly? If so, just click on this self-grading Mnemonics "Seed" Quiz again so you can re-take the -cede, -ceed, -sede words so you can see how easy it is to recognize the correct spelling of these words.

  • This entry is located in the following unit: Focusing on Words Newsletter #04 (page 1)
    Results of Previous "Mnemonic devices can guarantee greater accuracy in spelling English words.

    First, the results of the principal/principle survey

    The spelling of many English words are confusing even to those whose first language is English.

    There were 45 per cent of the subscribers on the Focusing on Words Newsletter list who responded to the survey.

    • 1. The (principal/principle) reason for this discussion is to improve one’s spelling skills.

      Of those responding, 68 per cent chose the right answer (principal).

    • 2. All of us should live by certain moral (principals/principles).

      Ninety-nine per cent chose the right answer (principles) in number two.

    • 3. The (principal/principle) character in the play is ill.

      In number three, eighty-two per cent chose the right answer (principal).

    • 4. His political (principals/principles) are less than acceptable.

      In number four, ninety-seven per cent chose the right answer (principles).

    • 5. As a matter of (principal/principle), he refused to borrow money from anyone.

      In number five, ninety-seven per cent chose the right answer (principle).

    • 6. The (principal/principle) invested in that project was $100,000.

      Of those participating, eighty-five per cent made the correct choice of (principal) in number six.

    • 7. We must instill into the minds of our youth (principals/principles) of honesty and morality.

      Ninety-seven per cent of participants indicated the right answer (principles) in the last number.

    A few words about the use of mnemonic devices that make it easier to remember how to spell certain words correctly.

    Although many subscribers had different mnemonic devices for determining which principal/principle to use in a sentence, the best mnemonics to use seem to be “main” for principal and “rule” for principle.

    Note the relationship of the “a” in main and principal and the “le” in rule and principle. Always make these relationships and you will always use them correctly.

    Mnemonic [nee MAH nik], as in mnemonic device, comes from the Greek element that means, “memory” or “to remember” and refers to a technique that facilitates making the right choices for words that are otherwise confusing.

    Whenever you want to make sure you have chosen the correct principal/principle, substitute the words main and rule in place of one or the other principal/principle, to see if it makes sense and when it does; it is certain that you have the right choice. For example, in number one, you could say, “The rule reason for this discussion ....” or say, “The main reason for this discussion ....” and you would logically have to choose main or “principal” because the other choice simply doesn’t make any sense.

    So many people have used the mnemonic device of saying, “You spell the principal of the school with pal because he/she is your pal” or something similar to that. I strongly urge that you NOT use this mnemonic because it can be very misleading. It tends to make people think that the use of pal is used only with that particular principal. It is far better to say that the principal of the school is spelled with pal because he/she is the MAIN administrator, teacher, or educator of the school.

    Did you notice the erratum in sentence number seven of the survey. Mea culpa. I used “install” instead of “instill into the minds ....”

    Congratulations to nine subscribers (out of the 412 who participated) who saw and told me about this error (erratum). If there had been more than one erratum, then I would have had to confess to errata.

    Thank you, if you were one of those who contributed to the survey. It was amazing to see that MOST of the participants made no errata in their submissions. I apparently have a VERY knowledgeable list of subscribers!

    This entry is located in the following unit: Focusing on Words Newsletter #05 (page 1)