Accept vs. except?

The verb accept means ‘to consent,’ ‘agree,’ or ‘receive.’ The word except is a verb, conjunction, or proposition that means ‘to exclude’ or ‘object.’

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What is the difference between accept and except?

The words accept and except are clearly separate words, but it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference when we pronounce them aloud. But not only are these words homophones (same pronunciation, different meanings), English also uses “accept” and “except” for nearly opposite meanings. 

Whether it’s a preposition, conjunction, or verb, we generally use “except” to convey an exclusion, exception, or objection. For example, 

  • “The hospital takes every health care plan except yours.” (exclusion)
  • “I think you’re great except I wish you wrote more.” (exception)
  • “I except to the rules of English grammar.” (objection)

As we can see, the word “except” can easily bring negative vibes to the table. As for “accept,” the verb largely conveys acts of agreement, acknowledgment, understanding, or receiving (a more positive connotation, we’d say). For example, 

  • The hospital accepts all health care plans.” 
  • “I accept you for who you are.”
  • “I accept full responsibility for not using spell-check.”

See the difference? 

What does except mean?

Most English speakers use the word except as a preposition or conjunction, but the term also exists as a formal verb. Let’s take a look: 

Except as a verb

The verb except means ‘to specify as excluded from a group or category,’ although it depends on transitive and intransitive usage. As a transitive verb, ‘except’ means ‘to omit’ or ‘exclude.’ For example, 

  • “The store requires everyone to wear a mask, young children excepted.” 
  • “The state has mandated a curfew, essential works excepted.”  

The intransitive form of except means ‘to object’ or ‘take exception.’  For example, 

  • “The lawyers must except to the judge’s ruling.” 
  • “Some will except to the rules of social distancing.”

Verb forms

Verb forms of except include: excepted (past participle), excepting (present participle), and excepts (present tense). 

Synonyms

Bar, challenge, count out, defy, disregard, exclude, expostulate, fight, kick, object, omit, leave out, pass over, protest, remonstrate, rule out, take exception, take issue. 

Except as a preposition

As a preposition, the word except means ‘not including,’ ‘with the exclusion of,’ or ‘other than.’ For example, 

  • “Everyone was there except my brother.” 
  • “All countries partook in the treaty except for the United States and Brazil.” 
  • “Everyone in class is a native speaker except me.”
  • “We don’t use any proofreading software except for Grammarly.”
  • “Grandma invited everyone except Uncle Jerry, of course.”

Synonyms

Apart from, aside from, bar, barring, beside, besides, but, excluding, exclusive of, leaving out, not counting/including, other than, outside, outside of, save, saving.

Except as a conjunction

English speakers use except as a conjunction before statements that make an exception or an exclusion from a category or group. For this sense, the conjunction means ‘if it were not for the fact that’ or ‘otherwise than.’ For example, 

  • “I would learn a second language, except that I’d rather pick it up in a foreign country.”
  • “The movie was great, except for the loud eaters behind me.”
  • “He’s a great student, except he struggles to follow simple rules.” 
  • “I would have passed the exam, except I failed the section on homonyms.” 
  • “He doesn’t read any news, except for the New York Times and Huffington Post.”

Synonyms

But, do other than, only, other than, otherwise than, saving, yet.

Etymology of except

The word except entered Late Middle English from Latin exceptus, the past participle of excipere (‘to exclude’). As denoted by Lexico, Latin excipere consists of the prefix ex-out of’ and capere ‘take.’

What does accept mean?

The verb accept generally means ‘to consent or receive something offered’ or ‘to find an understanding of something’s validity.’ However, the verb’s connotation can differ by context. Let’s take a look: 

#1. To agree to an offering (especially with an affirmative “yes”). For example, 

  • “The family accepted the unexpected donation in tears.” 
  • “Cinderella will accept your invitation to the ball.” 
  • “Will you accept my marriage proposal?” 
  • “The council will gladly accept your business proposal.” 

#2. To acknowledge or take upon any duty, liability, or responsibility. For example, 

  • “The teacher accepts full responsibility for the class’s chaotic field trip.” 
  • “Tenants must accept the financial liabilities of owning pets.” 
  • “She accepted her sacred duty.” 

#3. To admit or receive something deemed adequate, valid, or suitable to a group, entity, society, or family. For example, 

  • “She was accepted by Harvard and Yale.” 
  • “The English grammar club welcomes and accepts ESL students.” 
  • “The family accepted him as one of their own.”

#4. To regard, recognize, or reach an understanding of something proper, true, or valid (even under unfavorable circumstances). For example, 

  • “I must accept my fate.” 
  • “We must accept the things we cannot change.” 
  • “Some people cannot accept the reality of a pandemic.” 

#5. To receive a designated type of payment. For example, 

  • “Do you accept checks or credit cards?”
  • “We accept VISA or American Express.” 
  • “The bank will not accept unsigned checks.” 

#6. To adhere or to hold something applied or inserted. For example, 

  • “The ATM does not accept foreign currency.” 
  • “The pine surface may not accept acrylic paints.” 

Verb forms

Verb forms of accept include: accepted (past participle), accepting (present participle), and accepts (present tense). 

Synonyms

Abide, accede, acquire, adhere, approve, assent, assume, bear, believe, concede, confirm, consent, embrace, endure, favor, gain, handle, have, obtain, okay, receive, shoulder, submit, succumb, support, sustain, take, tolerate, understand, undertake, uphold, welcome.

Antonyms

Abjure, avoid, circumvent, challenge, decline, deny, disallow, disapprove, disavow, disbelieve, disclaim, discredit, disfavor, dismiss, disown, distrust, doubt, fight, forsake, question, recant, refuse, reject, relinquish, repudiate, resist, suspect, veto, withdraw. 

Etymology of accept

Initially as Middle English accepten, the origins of “accept” stem back to Latin acceptāre, a verb form of accipere (‘to receive’). Latin accipere contains the prefix ad- (‘add’) and capere (‘to take’). 

FAQ: How to use accept or except in a sentence?

How to describe someone who accepts or is accepted?

The word accept has several related terms that we can use to describe one who accepts or is accepted. In fact, we can use the verb’s past and present participles (accepted and accepting) as adjectives to describe as much. Let’s take a look at our options: 

  • Accepting (adjective): ‘One who accepts’ or ‘regards differences with tolerance and acceptance.’ 
  • Accepted (adjective): ‘Widely approved or recognized as valid.’ 
  • Acceptable (adjective): ‘Satisfactory,’ ‘suitable,’ or ‘worthy of acceptance.’
  • Acceptance (noun): ‘The state of being accepted,’ ‘acceptable,’ or ‘the act of accepting another.’

How to use the verb except in a sentence?

The verb except is tricky to use because of how often people misspell accept, which Garner’s Modern English Usage (GMEU) calls “one of the grossest errors that a published writer can commit” (362–363). Harsh. 

Indeed, misspelling “accept” as “except” is quite embarrassing, and we often find this mistake in phrases like, “The store is excepting cash,” or “they don’t except me for who I am.” 

To avoid this mistake, remember that ‘to except is to ‘exclude,’ ‘omit,’ ‘object,’ or ‘take exception to.’ So, even if the spellings are intentional, the sentences are not grammatically correct or understandable. 

Additionally, GMEU advises writers to avoid using “excepting” outside of “not excepting” while substituting the phrases “except for” or “aside from” (362). For example, 

  • “Staying up all night, regardless of age, is scientifically bad for you, but there are many things that make doing so a worthwhile risk to take (excepting work, work is not one of them).” –– The New York Times 

By GMEU’s logic, the phrase “excepting work” is unfavorable because it sounds less natural than “not excepting work” (you can be the judge of that). However, the grammar source says nothing about using lone “excepted,” so it’s fair to say the following sentence is fair game (362): 

  • “…Fox’s team of wolves (Chris Wallace excepted) visibly realized the script was being rewritten, and pounced on it—until Arizona happened.” –– GQ 

How to tell if except is a preposition or a conjunction?

Except is a preposition when it begins a phrase (not a clause). But there are two conditions: no finite verbs or the use of “that” after “except” (362). For example, 

  • “We have cookies for all Santa’s friends except reindeer with gluten allergies.” 
  • “No one is to drink the milk except those with lactase.” 

In the opposite fashion, except is a conjunction when it introduces a clause containing a finite verb and the relative pronoun “that” after “except.” For example, 

  • “They would share their cookies with Rudolf, except that his nose gives them flashbacks.” 
  • “We would have enjoyed the milk, except that someone forgot to bring the lactase.” 

Last note:

When a pronoun follows the preposition “except,” be sure to write it in the objective case. Likewise, when a pronoun follows the conjunction “except,” use the nominative case instead. For example

  • “Nobody shares cookies with Rudolf except him.” (pronoun, objective case)
  • “The elf is pretty laid back about cookies, except that he loses his mind if there are raisins.” 

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between accept and except with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false: The words “accept” and “except” both derive from Latin capere.
    a. True
    b. False
  2. “Accept” and “except” are commonly confused words because they are ___________.
    a. Verbs
    b. Prepositions
    c. Homophones
    d. Homologous 
  3. The word “except” is a __________.
    a. Verb
    b. Preposition
    c. Conjunction
    d. All of the above
  4. The word “accept” is a __________. 
    a. Adverb
    b. Verb
    c. Conjunction
    d. Adjective
  5. Choose the correct word: “Do you __________ them as your lawfully wedded partner?”
    a. Accept
    b. Except
  6. Choose the correct word: “We found everyone __________ our cousin.” 
    a. Accept
    b. Except
  7. As a conjunction, the word “except” occurs before statements that provide _____________. 
    a. An exclusionary statement
    b. An exception
    c. Similar connotations
    d. A and B

Answers

  1. A
  2. C
  3. D
  4. B
  5. A
  6. B
  7. D

Sources

  1. Accept.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  2. Accept.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  3. Accepted.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  4. Acceptable.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  5. Acceptance.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  6. Accepting.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  7. Except.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  8. Except.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  9. Except.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  10. Garner, B. “Except.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 362–365. 
  11. Lovinger, Caitlin. “Performing Well.” The New York Times, NYTimes, 19 Jun 2020. 
  12. Siquig, Alex. “Fear and Loathing and Fear Again With Fox News.” GQ Magazine, GQ, 4 Nov 2020.