I’ve seen precede used for proceed two times lately — on a sign in a restaurant and on a blog posting. I wondered if the mistakes were just typos (although the restaurant sign was handwritten) or if the writers were confused about the words. The idea they meant to convey was to go on. In the restaurant, patrons were to keep going past the sign to a hostess station.
Both pre- and pro- as prefixes mean “before,” but pro- also means “forth” or as a root word “forward.” Both precede and proceed are built on the root cedere, meaning “to go or leave.”
The more common mistake before the advent of computer spelling checkers was confusing the -cede or -ceed part. A spellchecker is a wonderful thing, but what if you are writing a note by hand? You just have to memorize the spellings. I found a site that has a good mnemonic device for remembering the -cede, -ceed and -sede words. The Focusing on Words newsletter has the entry at this link (scroll down a bit to see the relevant part). The site is a dictionary of Latin and Greek words that are used in English.
Here are the basics:
Only one common English word ends in -sede: supersede. (The root word for supersede is the Latin sedere, meaning “to sit.”)
Only three common words end in -ceed: exceed, proceed and succeed. All the other words built on that Latin root cedere are spelled with -cede: accede, antecede, cede, concede, intercede, precede, recede and secede.
This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.