For centuries, writers have mixed up accept and except. Everyone from novelists to poets to playwrights has struggled with these words, so what chance do you have?
Just remember, if you can use accept and except correctly, you'll be doing better than many before you who could not; if you can't learn the difference, hey! Even the great writers who came before you had a hard time with this issue.
Before we take an in-depth look at the two words, check out the video below for a quick breakdown of the meaning of accept vs. except.
Learning Your Latin
The trouble with accept vs. except is that the two words are based on the same Latin word, capere, meaning "take." (Presumably, the word capers also comes from this Latin root because, after tasting capers, you'll want to take those disgusting vegetables away and never think of them again. Just kidding—kind of.)
The key to learning the difference between accept vs. except is their prefixes.
Ac– comes from a Latin prefix meaning "to." If you put that together with –cept (from capere), you get "to take." This makes sense because accept means "to agree to receive something."
The prefix of except, ex–, means "out of," so it makes sense that except means "to take out or exclude."
The Meaning of Accept
Let's look at these definitions more closely. We've established that accept is a verb meaning "to agree to receive something," but what does this definition cover? Good news: you can use accept whether you're receiving a physical item (e.g., a present, money, or an application) or an abstract concept (e.g., responsibility, an apology, or an idea).
To illustrate, here is a list of five things you should accept:
- The bright green sweater your aunt got you for Christmas (You can secretly return it later.)
- Your friend's apology after she yells at you for cancelling plans because there's a Top Chef marathon on the Food Network you want to watch
- The fact that, as much as the media paints them as cruel and heartless, cats are just as loving and loyal as dogs
- Your mom's hurtful but well-meaning advice to get some sleep because you're "starting to look like the little green fella in that Star Wars movie"
- A job babysitting your neighbor's two kids (because they go to bed at seven and you'll essentially get paid to watch TV for three-and-a-half hours)
Examples of Accept
To help you grasp how to use accept in a sentence, here are examples of the word from three heroes of the past century: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Einstein, and Cher Horowitz from Clueless.
"Accept who you are. Unless you're a serial killer." – Ellen DeGeneres
"Once you accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." – Albert Einstein
"I know how you say, 'Never accept a first offer,' so I figure these grades are just a jumping off point to start negotiations." – Cher Horowitz, Clueless
The Meaning of Except
Except is most commonly used in two ways: as a preposition (e.g., "I like every vegetable except capers") and as a conjunction (e.g., "I would have eaten everything on my plate, except I don't like capers").
When used as a preposition, except means "excluding or omitting." As a conjunction, its definition is similar, but it's being used to note an exception to a previous statement.
Last is the least-used and most-confusing form of the word: except as a verb. In this form, except means "to exclude or omit from a group or category." It's generally only used in formal settings (e.g., "Sorry, old chap, but I decided to except you from all future dinner parties because of your strange aversion to my favorite dish: capers"). Being aware of this form of the word is important in case you encounter it in such contexts.
Examples of Except
Learning by example can be a good way to grasp tricky words; allow yourself to be educated about accept vs. except by Ben and Oscar:
"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." – Benjamin Franklin
"I can resist everything except temptation." – Oscar Wilde
In formal contexts, the preposition excepting can be used. Finding a clever quote that contains excepting as a preposition is a tough order. Because it's mainly used in such formal situations, all the examples of its use are exceptionally dull—except one. (See what we did there?)
Enjoy this quote from the Cleric in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as he consults the Book of Armaments regarding when to throw the Holy Hand Grenade:
"And the Lord spake, saying, 'First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three. No more. No less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once at the number three, being the third number be reached, then, lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it.'" – Cleric, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Next, we'll examine except as a conjunction. This example comes from the decidedly less formal but just as entertaining Neal Page (played by Steve Martin in the greatest film of our time, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles):
"You're like one of those Chatty Cathy dolls, except I'm not pulling the string; you are." – Neal Page, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Remember a few paragraphs ago when we thought we had trouble finding examples of the preposition excepting? Well, that was nothing compared to finding entertaining examples of except as a verb. Total yawnfest. We made one up, instead.
"As she reviewed her to-do list, Starbucks in hand and makeup en pointe, she decided to except her yoga class from the day's plans because her old bear-hunting injury was acting up again."
If you were to boil this post down to reveal its main ingredient, through all the steam, you'd see this (don't worry; it's not capers):
Accept = Agree to receive
Except = Exclude or omit
If you're still struggling with accept vs. except, don't feel bad! Check out this quiz for more practice, and in the meantime, have your writing proofread to make sure you use the right word every single time
Image source: Annie Spratt/Unsplash.com