While writing the previous post, ‘The Importance of Perseverance’, I was reminded of the question my students often ask me – When do words end with –ance and when do they end with – ence. For example, the words importance and perseverance both end with –ance, but the words essence and affluence end with –ence, even though they are all pronounced identically. Why? What is the rule for knowing when to end with –ance and when with –ence?
Unfortunately (if the word can be used here), there is no rule for this. In fact English grammar in general has no set rules. The reason for this is that the English language is derived from at least six different languages. Then with time and the advancement of science and technology, new words were formed and added to the English language, while other words were modified. With such diverse roots and changes, English grammar could never have any rules as such.
Now coming back to –ance and –ence, words ending with these suffixes are among the most misspelled words in the English language. The best way to know the correct ending is to learn the spellings, and when in doubt, check the dictionary. Other than this, based only on observation, these points can be kept in mind –
* Add –ance when
Root ends with a hard c or g: significance, elegance
Root ends with –ear: appear – > appearance
Root ends with –ure: endure – > endurance
Root ends with –ate: dominate – > dominance
Root ends with –er and first syllable stress: hinder – > hindrance
Root ends with y: defy – > defiance
Root begins with a: assist – > assistance
* Add –ence when
Root ends with a soft c or g: innocence, intelligence
Root ends with –ist: insist – > insistence
Root ends with – ere: interfere – > interference
Root ends with –er and last syllable stress: prefer – > preference
Root contains esce: inflorescence
Root contains id: confidence
Root contains qu: consequence
These “rules” are, however, not 100% reliable. All of them have exceptions. An example of an exception is perseverance. Although the root (persevere) ends with ere, -ance and not –ence is added. It is, therefore, best to consult a dictionary when in doubt.
How do you manage to spell these words correctly?