In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. In this series of spelling tips we will be looking at some of the most commonly misspelled words in English and suggesting ways to improve your spelling.
After last week’s unexpectedly complicated topic – the double ‘n’ in the middle of beginning – here’s a more straightforward one. People searching for the word success in Macmillan Dictionary often look for *succes (and for *succesful instead of successful).
Success comes from the verb succeed, which has Latin roots (the verb ‘succedere’). It follows the same pattern as similar nouns like excess (from exceed, Latin ‘excedere’) and process (from proceed, Latin ‘procedere’) as well as others like recession and concession (from recede and concede respectively). You will notice that pronunciation is no help here: while success has the stress on the second syllable, the stress on excess varies according to whether it is an adjective or a noun, while for process the stress is on the first syllable.
Knowing the Latin origin of all these words helps with spelling them correctly; as we have noticed, words of Latin or Romance origin often contain double consonants, especially when they come from a root that consists of a prefix and another word. Another guide is that there are very few English words ending in -ces, apart from plurals and inflections: in fact, I can think of only one, Pisces, and that is formed from the plural of the Latin for ‘fish’. So a word that is not a plural or inflection, ending with the sound /ses/, or indeed one that has it in the middle, is likely to have a double ‘s’ in the spelling.
You can find some information on why English spelling is so difficult, as well as helpful tips on mastering it here. You can search for other posts in this series using the tag ‘spelling tips’.
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