Precede and Proceed

Commonly Confused Words

precede and proceed
Planning precedes execution, and work proceeds from the ground up. Hero Images/Getty Images

As Bryan Garner notes in Garner's Modern English Usage (2016), the words precede and proceed "are sometimes confused even by otherwise literate people. Both may mean 'to go ahead,' but in different senses."

Definitions

The verb precede means to come before in time, order, or rank. The past tense of precede is preceded. The adjective form of precede is preceding, which means existing, happening, or coming before in time or in place.

The verb proceed means to go forward, continue, or do something after you have done something else. Proceed also means to come from a source. The past tense of proceed is proceeded. The plural noun proceeds means the amount of money received from a particular activity or event.

Examples

  • At most movie theaters, previews of upcoming films usually precede the main feature.
  • "[M]ost children need a break after a long sedentary day at school. Relaxing and letting off steam, preferably through some kind of outdoor physical exercise, should always precede settling back down to schoolwork."
    (Natalie Rathvon, The Unmotivated Child. Fireside, 1996)
  • "Every three months he visited our church, stayed at Momma's over the Saturday night and preached a loud passionate sermon on Sunday. He collected the money that had been taken in over the preceding months, heard reports from all the church groups and shook hands with the adults and kissed the children."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)
  • Despite the bad weather, we decided to proceed after having walked this far.
  • "The gravel lot that had surrounded the diner was occupied now by a great cube of brown-tinted glass, the branch of a statewide bank. Yellow arrows painted on the smooth asphalt told automobiles how to proceed to the drive-in windows."
    (John Updike, "One More Interview." Trust Me. Alfred A. Knopf, 1987)
  • "Joe Louis knocked out Hitler's champion Max Schmeling in 1938, famously donated the proceeds of two fights to the navy and army fund, and put on morale-boosting boxing exhibitions for the troops."
    (Fog of War: The Second World War and the Civil Rights Movement, ed. by  Kevin M. Kruse and Stephen Tuck. Oxford University Press, 2012)

Practice

(a) After detaining us for almost an hour, the guard finally let us _____.

(b) In English sentences, subjects usually _____ their verbs.

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Answers to Practice Exercises: Precede and Proceed

(a) After detaining us for almost an hour, the guard finally let us proceed.

(b) In English sentences, subjects usually precede their verbs.