“Assent” vs. “Ascent”: What’s The Difference?

Homophones: love them or hate them, they’re everywhere. These two are a great example. They may sound the same, but their meanings couldn’t be any more different. Assent is a word that indicates agreement or approval. Ascent refers to an upward movement.

Let’s take a closer look.

What does assent mean?

As a verb, assent means to agree or to give in. When used as a verb, it’s often followed by the word to. An example of this can be found in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw: “She appeared to assent to this, but still only in silence.”

Assent can also be used as a noun indicating agreement. Often when it’s used as a noun, it indicates a person agreeing or giving permission without using words—like when you nod in recognition of something another person says.

The word assent, which was first recorded in English around 1250–1300, is ultimately derived from the Latin word assentārī (“agree with, approve). 

The opposite of assent is, unsurprisingly, dissent. Find out more about dissent and how it differs from protest, here.

What does ascent mean?

Ascent is a noun. It describes the action of moving upward. It usually refers to climbing or walking uphill. It’s also used to talk about things that fly upward. By association, it can refer to the slope or other upward path that a person or thing climbs or travels up. It can also refer to the upward route that a bird, plane, or other flying thing takes to get into the air.

As such, the word ascent is commonly used in aerospace terminology. Ascent always relates to the act of going upward. Its opposite (or antonym) is descent, which refers to the act of going downward. These words can be used either literally, to refer to physical movement, or metaphorically, to refer to moral, spiritual, or social advancement.

Spiritually, ascent is often used to indicate that a person is moving closer to the divine or to some other form of goodness or higher being. In Dante’s Paradiso, the first segment (or canto) where the characters start to explore Paradise is called “The Ascent to the First Heaven.” The word ascent can also be used to talk about someone advancing in a career or leadership role, especially when referring to their gaining power.

The word ascent is derived from ascend, which can be traced back to the Latin term ascendere (“to climb up”) and dates back to 1350–1400. 

How do you use assent and ascent?

These two words have different meanings, and learning to use them requires telling them apart. Ascent is used when something is moving upward, literally or metaphorically. Assent implies there is agreement.

Here are some examples of the word ascent in use:

  • Soon after the young man’s ascent to the throne, the country was thrown into turmoil.
  • The ascent to the mountain’s peak took two days, and we enjoyed every minute of the hike.
  • She picked up her luggage and began her ascent to the fifth floor.

What follows are examples of sentences including assent:

  • As she criticized her supervisor’s handling of the crisis, many of her colleagues nodded in assent.
  • “Of course,” Sara assented. “I’ll help any way I can.”
  • Mom didn’t look happy when I asked to borrow the car, but she gave me a feeble “OK” of assent.

Homophones can be torturous ... or is it tortuous? Find out the difference between the words here.

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