Mnemonics: Spelling "Seed" Words

(-cede, -ceed, and -sede)

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

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

  2. Let's repeat this statement: supersede, is the only word in the entire English language that is spelled with the sede ending. Any other spelling is incorrect.

    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 2007 will supersede 2006."

    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.

  3. 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.

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”.

A user suggested an additional mnemonic: "You may proceed and, if you succeed, you will exceed all of their expectations."

—Carolfrances Likins

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 -sede.

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.

Words in the news

In the December 28, 1998, issue of the International Herald Tribune in the William Safire column called, “Language”, he wrote: “Now to the alleged mistake that drew the most mail. In a line about the pronunciation of status, I wrote, ‘That is usually pronounced STAT-us, as in statistics, by the highfalutin, and STATE-us by the hoi polloi.’

“From Jim Tart of Dallas: ‘My daughter Katie tells me that her eighth-grade teacher would have smacked her in the head with her grammar book had she said the hoi polloi. Katie says hoi polloi means 'the masses', and therefore should never be proceeded by the. 'Live by the sword and die by the sword.' "

“Thank you, Mr. Tart. (And when Katie comes by with her spelling book opened to preceded, watch your head.)”

Pointing to a page about a cede-, seed quizzes. Vocabulary Quizzes for the Mnemonics Spelling Quiz (-cede, -ceed, and -sede words).

Pointing to a page about a mnemonic words The mnemonics unit of words.

Remember: you can take a quiz about these -cede, -ceed, and -sede words by going to this subcategory quiz.