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Spelling: -ce vs. -se

It is easy to get confused between nouns and verbs that are spelled almost identically. However, here is a simple rule that will help you with two sound-alike pairs of words.

Rule: Generally, the verb form will be spelled with the “s” and the noun with the “c.”

Examples:
advise vs. advice
devise vs. device

Example: She gave us good advice.
Noun meaning recommendation.

Example: Please advise us of our options.
Verb meaning the act of giving a recommendation.

To learn more about confusing words and homonyms, click here.

Pop Quiz

Choose the correct word in the sentences below.

1. They have to device/devise a foolproof plan to make sure she is surprised on her birthday.

2. The dentist has a new device/devise for cleaning teeth.

3. Whoever devised/deviced this dental instrument must not have had very sensitive teeth.

4. I would advice/advise you to allow the hygienist to try it on a few teeth before committing to it.

5. No amount of advice/advise can substitute for experience.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. They have to devise a foolproof plan to make sure she is surprised on her birthday.

2. The dentist has a new device for cleaning teeth.

3. Whoever devised this dental instrument must not have had very sensitive teeth.

4. I would advise you to allow the hygienist to try it on a few teeth before committing to it.

5. No amount of advice can substitute for experience.

Posted on Tuesday, October 19, 2010, at 3:49 pm


10 Comments

10 Responses to “Spelling: -ce vs. -se”

  1. Natasha says:

    Thank you for the advice! English being my second language I’ve always had trouble with this particular rule and now I know!!! Thank you again!

  2. Milka says:

    I was told that in this case I should remember “ice” as a noun and so anything that was a noun would end in “ice”. However, I get confused with “license”. Could you please let me know if a licence even exists?

    Thanks,

    • Jane says:

      Regarding words that end in —se or —ce, generally, the verb form will be spelled with the “s” and the noun with the “c,” such as advise/advice, devise/device.The word license can be either a noun or a verb.The most common use of the word license is as a noun meaning “a document, card, plate, or tag that is issued as proof of official or legal permission.” When used as a verb it means “to grant a license to or for; authorize.”

  3. anil says:

    The verb form with –se (to) and the noun form with –ce (ice).
    But perhaps for clarification you’d need to describe the use of some exceptions — license, defense, offense, pretense, etc.

    • Jane says:

      This blog deals with specific, similar-sounding but differently spelled noun/verb pairs. Your example nouns either do not have verb forms or are spelled the same as both nouns and verbs. However, I do appreciate your suggestion for clarification.

  4. MadraBan says:

    Move to the UK and the -ce rule still holds – doctors and dentists practise at a practice; we have defence lawyers and driving licences; we occasionally make a pretence of not taking offence :)

  5. Marco says:

    Move to the UK and find this page quite useful.
    Jane says:
    March 15, 2012, at 9:39 pm
    ….The word licenSe can be either a noun or a verb….
    MadraBan says:
    September 28, 2013, at 6:32 am
    ….– doctors and dentists practise at a practice; we have defence lawyers and driving licenCes; …
    I tohught license for both was American English
    Cheers

    • As we wrote in our reply of March 15, 2012, in American English the word license can be either a noun or a verb. In her comment of September 28, 2013, MadraBan wrote that in the UK, the -ce rule still holds. Therefore, “driving licence” is correct in the UK.

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