“Accept” vs. “Except”: What’s The Difference?

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?

What does accept mean?

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

What does except mean?

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 hereExcept is also widely used in the phrase except for, as in She would travel more except for lack of money.

Homophones can make a big mess of our brains. Just look at reeking vs. wreaking. Do you know the difference?

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.”

How do you use accept and except?

One easy way to keep these two terms straight is to remember the ex- in except and associate it with exclude. That will help you distinguish it from accept, which means “to receive.”

Here are some examples of how you might use except:

  • Everyone except Clarissa is required to participate in tomorrow’s seminar.
  • Except for one year I spent studying abroad, I’ve lived in Philadelphia my whole life.
  • Our boss has blamed everyone except himself for the losses this quarter.

Here are some examples of how you might use accept:

  • Desperate to sell, the owner accepted the couple’s very low offer on the house.
  • He’s a proud man and generally doesn’t accept charity or help from friends.
  • I can’t accept this gift, as it’s much too expensive!

And in case you’re wondering, yes, you can say someone has been excepted from an invitation list though it’s not so commonly used: Some employees are excepted from the new sick day policy.

When determining whether to use except or accept in a sentence, you can also consider what part of speech the sentence 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 (accept is only used a verb).

Feeling certain about these terms now? Does that make you confident or confidant? Learn more here.

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