The English language is full of words that are similar to each other but also quite distinct. Some of these words sound the same, some are spelled the same, and some have similar origins, but they are all different in their meanings—if only slightly.
Today’s words, precede vs. proceed, are two words that confuse even experienced writers and print journalists from time to time. Both words mean to go ahead, but they mean it in different senses.
What is the Difference Between Precede and Proceed?
Today, I want to highlight the differences between precede and proceed. I will go over their definitions, provide you with example sentences, and give some tricks to remember the difference.
After reading this post, you shouldn’t ever again wonder which is the correct word choice. Is it precede or proceed?
When to Use Precede
Precede is a verb that means to go, exist, occur before in time; to be in front of or prior to in order.
- A lecture from the professor preceded the documentary.
- The wife preceded her husband walking into the restaurant.
- A firefight preceded the air support from the helicopter.
Precede comes from the Latin word praecedere, which means go before. Prae ‘before’ + cedere ‘go.’
The key takeaway with the word precede is that the going ahead that is taking place happens before or prior to something else. So, in our example above, the wife walked into the restaurant before her husband, i.e., she preceded him.
A similar word is precedent, which describes an earlier event that is an example or guide to be considered in future events.
Misspelling of Precede
Many people will incorrectly spell precede as preceed, which is a misspelling that confuses the two words proceed vs. precede. It is widely rejected and should be avoided.
When to Use Proceed
Proceed is a verb that means to go forward or onward, especially after an interruption; to carry on.
- Once the protests subsided, the hearings proceeded.
- Despite promises to the contrary, business proceeded as usual.
- Before entering the room, I asked, “May I proceed?”
Proceed comes from the Latin word procedere, which means go forward. Pro ‘forward’ + cedere ‘go.’
The focus of proceed is placed on a continuation of some action or event that was already in process.
Remember the Difference
The usual mistake involving these two words is mistaking proceed for the word precede.
- The press secretary proceeded the president to the microphone. (WRONG)
- The press secretary preceded the president to the microphone. (CORRECT)
In order to avoid this mistake, always remember the following trick.
Precede means to come before and the word has one additional “E” than does proceed. Precede means before.
Proceed means to carry on or go forward. The words proceed and forward have the letter “O” in them, as does the phrase carry on.
While these two words are exactly antonyms of each other, they do have very different means, and they are focused on very different things. It’s important to know when to choose proceed or precede for a given sentence.
Precede means to come before something or someone else.
Proceed means to carry on or go forward.
Preceed is a misspelling that attempts to combine the two.