Accept vs. Except

Do I accept an invitation or except it? If someone is left off of an invitation list, has she been excepted or accepted? What’s the difference between these two terms, and how can we keep them straight?

Accept means, most broadly, to take or receive (something offered) or receive with approval or favor, as in “I accept this trophy.”

Except has a verb sense of to exclude; leave out, as in the phrase “present company excepted.” But it can also be used as a preposition, as in “They were all there except me,” and a conjunction, as in “Every inch of the facility was well fortified except here.” Except is also widely used in the phrase except for, meaning were it not for, as in “She would travel more except for lack of money.”

One easy way to keep these two terms straight is to zero in on the ex- in except and associate it with exclude. When determining whether to use except or accept in a sentence, first consider what part of speech the context calls for:

  • If you need a verb, and if that verb could be replaced with exclude without losing the intended meaning of the sentence, then choose except. If the meaning is lost with exclude, then go with accept.
  • If you need a preposition or conjunction (or anything other than a verb), except is the term for you, as accept is only used a verb.

As with some other commonly confused terms, accept and except share a linguistic ancestor. Both can be traced to the Latin verb capere meaning to take. The prefix ex- means out of. The prefix ac- is a variant of ad-, which occurs in loanwords from Latin where it meant toward.

And there you have it! Hopefully you’ll accept our help with these two terms—of course, those who don’t need the assistance are cheerfully excepted.

 

Think you have it figured out? Take the accept vs. except quiz!