Commonly Confused Words: Accept vs. Except

The articles I’ve written so far about commonly confused words have been really easy, except this one. I guess I’ll just have to accept that I’m not the grammatical whiz I think I am despite my master’s degree in English. But it’s not entirely my fault that accept vs except is so difficult to explain. While accept can only be used as a verb, except can function as multiple parts of speech. Let’s take a look at when to use except vs. accept and see if we can sort out this whole thing.

Accept vs. Except at a Glance

When used as verbs, accept vs. except and excepted vs. accepted have completely different meanings. However, the confusion is understandable because not only do these two words sound alike, but they both come from the same Latin root word, capere, which means to take.

It’s the prefixes that make the difference in the meaning between the two. Ac- is a variant of ad-, which means toward, while the prefix ex- means out. Based on these Latin root words, we can come up with a basic definition for each of these two words:

  • Accept means to take toward or, as we might be more comfortable saying in English, to take in.
  • Except means to take out.

When To Use Accept

When it comes to accept vs. except, the former seems to be the easier of the two to use correctly. Perhaps that is because accept can only be used as a verb. It usually means to receive something willingly. Another meaning of accept is to believe that something is true. In other words, you can accept something tangible, such as a cup of coffee, or something intangible, such as an idea.

Accept examples:

  • She was happy to accept the award on behalf of her absent brother.
  • Some people refuse to accept the fact that the earth is round.

When To Use Except

When except is used as a verb, it means to take out or to exclude. This is the sense that people mean when they say to someone in the same room, “Present company excepted“; in other words, “whatever I just said doesn’t apply to you.” The noun form is exception, but people usually say “to make an exception” rather than saying “to except.”

Except can also function as other parts of speech. As a conjunction, it can have the same meaning as butonly, and unless. As a preposition, it can mean other than or not including.

Except examples:

  • Current students are excepted from the academic requirements that new students have to meet under the administration’s new policy. (Verb)
  • I would be happy to attend your birthday party, except that I already have a prior engagement at the same time. (Conjunction meaning only)
  • I don’t read that website anymore because the writers do nothing except complain about casual fans. (Conjunction meaning but)
  • Except in an emergency, students are expected to stay in their seats and not leave the room without permission. (Conjunction meaning unless)
  • Except for holidays, the convenience store is open every day of the year. (Preposition meaning not including)
  • The guests enjoyed all the appetizers except the pigs in a blanket. (Preposition meaning other than)

Accept vs. Except: How To Remember the Difference

Since accept is used only as a verb, if the word you want belongs to another part of speech, you can be confident that you should use except. If the word you want is a verb, you can remember that except means to exclude, and both words contain the letter X. So if you are writing about excluding something, the word you want is except rather than accept.

How do you remember when to use accept vs except? Let us know in the comments.


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