Common Words Ending in -ance & -ence

Unlike languages such as Spanish or Japanese, English pronunciation doesn’t reflect the spelling of many of the words in the language. Native speakers of English and English language learners alike have trouble remembering the spelling of certain words. For me, one of those words was “independence“.  I could never remember if it ended in -ance or -ence!

When I started teaching English years ago, I finally memorized “independence” so that I wouldn’t make a mistake when teaching my students. Over the years, I often saw students (especially my TOEIC students) struggling with the spelling of -ance/-ence nouns and -ant/-ent adjectives. I found that giving them a reference list and reviewing the words from time to time was helpful, so I decided to create a printable list for this blog post.

With Independence Day right around the corner, what better time to review the spelling of these suffixes? 

Word list:

Download Word List PDF

Notes:

1. Point out to students that there is no difference in pronunciation between -ance and -ence (or between -ant and -ent). This is because these suffixes don’t carry any stress and are both pronounced with the unstressed schwa sound /ə/. (I.e., the last syllable in “importance” sounds exactly the same as the last syllable in “independence”—the same goes for “important” and “independent”.)

2. There are other -ance nouns that don’t have corresponding -ant adjective forms, such as appearance, performance, substance, and tolerance. Similarly, common -ence nouns that don’t have corresponding -ent adjective forms include audience, consequence, experience, preference, and sentence.

If you want to get into more detail with your students, the Oxford Dictionaries blog has a great article on spelling tips for words ending in -ance and -ence.

11 comments

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  1. frankbuckley2010@yahoo.com'

    Frank says:

    Feb 26, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    With no difference in meaning or pronunciation isn’t it time that we accepted ance and ence equally as alternative spellings to these words.
    As a British user, I often have to override the American spell-checker flagging up of such words as labour and colour.
    It is just something that you get used to.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 27, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      Sounds like every language learner’s (and editor’s) dream!

      Reply

  2. ESL Library Staff says:

    Jun 27, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    “Observance” is another one many people have trouble with. Can anyone think of a mnemonic for this one?

    Reply

    • donna.taylor1@btinternet.com'

      Donna says:

      Jul 01, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      how about just saying Ants are observant?

      Reply

  3. Tara Benwell says:

    Jun 27, 2014 at 1:33 am

    Tanya,
    My way of remember stationery is that the one with the e is for envelopes. I never forget now! I hope that helps. I I always look up vacuum. I think I’ll use your trick!
    T

    Reply

  4. Tara Benwell says:

    Jun 26, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks, Tanya! The word “independence” used to be on my personal “difficult words” spelling list. One day, I realized that this word had four e’s. I told myself that the “e’s” were independent. No “a’s” necessary! That helped.

    This morning, I was writing a quote on my chalkboard, and it had the word “resistance” in it. I had to look up the ending because both “ance” and “ence” looked correct in chalk. Now I need to think of a fun way to remember that “resistance” has an “a” in it. I guess I could say that it’s resistant of the independent rule. It has “e’s,” and “i,” and an “a”.

    Reply

    • tanya@tbtk.net'

      Tanya says:

      Jun 26, 2014 at 8:13 pm

      Those are great mnemonic devices, Tara! Another spelling that is troublesome for me is “vacuum”. I can always remember the two u’s (because that’s pretty rare in English) but can never remember if it’s one c or two. Maybe I can think of the vacuum sucking up the other c?

      Reply

    • tanya@tbtk.net'

      Tanya says:

      Jun 26, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Another tricky spelling for me is “stationery”. I often question whether it’s “stationary” or “stationery”. They are both words with different meanings, so this one is important to get right! (The -ary ending means to be in one place, not moving, and the -ery ending means materials to write with.) I need to think of a mnemonic device to help me remember this one! :)

      Reply

      • bbozzello@nasboces.org'

        Brigid says:

        Jun 28, 2016 at 1:04 am

        Tanya – Here’s the mnemonic device I use in this situation. The spelling of the word ‘stationery’ can be correlated to the word ‘paper’, as both basically end in ‘er’, which leaves ‘stationary’ to be spelled with the ‘ar’ ending. Hope this helps!

        Reply

        • Tanya Trusler says:

          Jun 28, 2016 at 10:56 am

          Brilliant! Thanks for sharing, Brigid!

          Reply

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