Grammar Spelling: -ce vs. -se |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

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.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

19 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,

    • 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.”

      • Steven Kirschbaum says:

        In British English we do have a noun “licence”. We are licensed to drive, and hold a driver’s licence. Also the word “practice” is a noun only. The verb form is “practise”. “I have a law practice” vs “I practise the piano”.

        I prefer the system where the noun and verb forms are differentiated by spelling. This makes the language richer and more descriptive. In truth, these are different words, and should be pronounced differently.

        For consistency’s sake, I feel that the word “use” should only be the verb form. The noun should be spelled “uce”. Especially so, as these words are pronounced very differently, even in American English. But, strangely, “uce” doesn’t exist even in British English.

      • Daniele Scortini says:

        What about “pounce”?

  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.

    • 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, we 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.

  6. georgina says:

    can you tell me is there a general rule choosing between ‘ce’ and ‘se’ for other words which are not a direct comparison of the same word as a noun or verb?
    i.e. house, choose, justice

  7. Oat says:

    Why do nouns house and mouse end in se?

    • Note the important word Generally in the rule. There are very few English rules that don’t have exceptions. The words house and mouse serve as the correct spellings for both the noun and verb forms.

    • Rebecca says:

      House and mouse have an -se because they’re following the rule of English words don’t end in a single s, unless it’s plural. They would mean “more than one hou” and “more than one mou” if we didn’t add the e.

      • GrammarBook.com says:

        That’s an interesting thought; however, words such as walrus, bus, chaos, circus, tennis, and octopus end in s and are not plural.

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