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Word roots and routes: cess, cease, cede, ceed

Nature Publishing Group ImagesNext in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary.

English has many related words containing the roots cede, ceed, cess and cease, derived from the Latin verb cēdere (go, go away, withdraw, yield) and its past participle cessus. Cede and cease exist as independent words, but this group of roots flourishes particularly in combination with prefixes. As is usual for words with Latin origins, some of these combinations have followed more easily traceable routes than others in their progress towards modern English.

Among the most transparent are the combinations with pre- (before): the verb precede, the nouns precedent and precedence, and the adjective preceding.

Ceed /cess plus pro- (forward) gives us the verbs proceed and process and the nouns proceeds, proceedings, procedure, process, processor and procession. Procession retains the meaning of physical movement forwards, while process and procedure, for example, contain the sense of a sequence of events advancing during a period of time.

Similarly, re- (back) gives the verb recede, the noun / verb recess, the biological adjective recessive and, most familiarly, the noun recession, a time when the economy slips backwards instead of striding forwards.

The prefix ex- in exceed, exceedingly, excess and excessive means out and, by extension, beyond, and these words all have meanings connected with going beyond what is expected, necessary, acceptable, etc.

The adjective deceased is a formal alternative to dead, and the noun the deceased means a dead person or dead people. Here, de- means away, so someone who is deceased has gone away. If you take on a new official position, the person who held the position before you is your predecessor (pre+de+cess+or): they have gone away before you.

An antecedent is literally something which has gone before (ante- = before), and from the same origin we also have ancestor, ancestry and ancestral.

Other members of this extended word family include abscess, accede, access, accessible, accessory, cessation, incessant, concede, concession, intercede, intercession, necessary, secede, secession, succeed, success, and succession.

The meanings of many of these words have shifted a long way from their original literal senses but, in some cases at least, recognizing the basic meanings of their roots and prefixes can be helpful in learning and remembering what they mean.

Notice that ceed / cede often appear in verbs, with cess in corresponding nouns, e.g.:

exceed – excess
recede – recession
succeed – success, succession

Be careful with pronunciation, especially differences in stress and vowel qualities, e.g.:

accede (verb) /ək’si:d/ access (noun / verb) /’ækses/
exceed (verb) /ɪk’si:d/ excess (noun) /ɪk’ses/ excess (adjective) /’ekses/
precede (verb) /prɪ’si:d/ precedent (noun) /’presɪdənt/
proceed (verb) /prə’si:d/ proceeds (noun) /’prəʊsi:dz/

Next in this series: draw, drag, draft, draught

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Jonathan Marks

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