The Farlex Grammar Book > English Spelling and Pronunciation > Spelling Conventions > Affixes > Suffixes > Commonly Confused Suffixes > Commonly Confused Suffixes: -ant vs. -ent
Commonly Confused Suffixes: -ant vs. -ent
The suffixes “-ant” and “-ent” are both used to form nouns of agency (persons or things who perform an action) and adjectives that describe a state or quality. They both derive from the conjugations of Latin and French verbs; in some cases, they seem to “attach” to existing base words (e.g., accountant, persistent), while other times they are adjacent to roots that could not exist on their own (brilliant, resilient).
The suffixes “-ant” and “-ent” are especially confusing because they are both common, have similar spellings, and are (usually) pronounced the exact same way (/ənt/). For words naturally ending in “-ant” or “-ent,” there are no real clues to help us determine which ending is correct (beyond knowing the word’s etymology); we just have to memorize them or check a dictionary to be sure. When “-ant” and “-ent” attach to existing base words, though, there are a few conventions we can follow to choose the correct one.
Finally, it’s important to note that the conventions in this section are not intended to describe when a certain base or root word can take “-ant” or “-ent”; they are merely meant to help you decide which ending to use when you know that a word ends in one of the two.
Rules for words ending in “-ant”
Rule 1: Use “-ant” with verbs ending in “-ate”
Verbs that end in “-ate” can often be made into nouns of agency or, less commonly, adjectives by adding the suffix “-ant.” Note that this suffix completely replaces “-ate”. For example:
Rule 2: Use “-ant” with verbs ending in silent E
In addition to verbs ending in “-ate,” the “-ant” ending will usually attach to verbs ending in other consonants + silent E. Unlike “-ate,” though, “-ant” only replaces the silent E in these examples. For instance:
- convulse→convulsant (used in the term anticonvulsant)
- perspire→perspirant (used in the term antiperspirant)
(*Not to be confused with confident; we’ll talk about how to remember the difference a little further on.)
Note that there are a few exceptions to this rule. First, three verbs ending in “-ide” will take the “-ent” suffix instead:
Also, silent E can be used to dictate that final C and G take the “soft” pronunciation (/s/ and /ʤ/, respectively), as in coalesce or emerge. As we’ll see further on, soft C and G are always followed by “-ent” rather than “-ant” (e.g., coalescent and emergent).
Rule 3: Use “-ant” with words ending in “-y”
Words ending in “-y” commonly take the related suffix “-ance,” which exclusively forms nouns, but only a few will take “-ant” (usually to form adjectives). In nearly all of these, Y changes to I. For example:
Uniquely, the Y in the verb occupy does not change to I; it is simply omitted:
One exception to this rule is the verb study, which has the associated noun of agency student.
Rule 4: Use “-ant” if it comes after “-ct-” or “-lt-”
If a stem or base word ends in the consonant cluster “-ct-” or (less commonly) “-lt-,” the ending will always be spelled “-ant.” For example:
CT + “-ant”
LT + “-ant”
Rule 5: Use “-ant” if it comes after “-or-”
If the last letters of the stem or root are “-or-,” the word will always end in the suffix “-ant”:
Rule 6: Use “-ant” if it follows a hard C or G
If a stem or base word ends in a “hard C” (the /k/ sound) or a “hard G” (the /g/ sound), the ending will always be spelled “-ant.” For example:
Hard C + “-ant”
Hard G + “-ant”
(Many of these examples also fall under the “-ate” rule as well.)
This is also true when a hard G is followed by N or R:
GN + “-ant”
GR + “-ant”
Rules for words ending in “-ent”
Rule 1: Use “-ent” if it follows a soft C or G
We saw already that words will take the “-ant” ending if it is preceded by a “hard C” (/k/) or a “hard G” (/g/). If the stem or base word ends in a “soft C” (/s/) or a “soft G” (/ʤ/), however, it will be followed by the “-ent” suffix or ending. For instance:
Soft C + “-ent”
Soft G + “-ent”
There are a few exceptions to this, though:
- pageant (/ˈpædʒənt/)
- sergeant (/ˈsɑrdʒənt/)
Rule 2: Use “-ent” with verbs ending in “-er” or “-ere”
ER + -ent
ERE + -ent
There is one exception to this, though it is uncommon in everyday speech or writing:
Rule 3: Use “-ent” if it follows “-id-”
If the root word ends in “-id-,” it is much more likely that the suffix will be “-ent” rather than “-ant.” For example:
As we said earlier, there are three verbs ending in “-ide” that are also associated with the “-ent” ending:
Finally, there are two exceptions in which “-id-” is followed by “-ant” instead: confidant (which we saw earlier) and oxidant. We can remember confidant (as opposed to confident) because it is pronounced with a secondary stress on -dant (/ˈkɑnfɪˌdɑnt/ or /ˈkɑnfɪˌdænt/), so the A sound is now distinctly audible. And we can remember the spelling of oxidant because it is something that causes oxidation.
Rule 4: Use “-ent” if it follows “-u-”
While there are a few words in which “-ant” follows “-u-,” it is much more likely for the ending to be “-ent.” For instance:
As we said, though, there are a few words that do end in “-uant”:
Words that can take either “-ant” or “-ent”
To make matters even more complicated, there are a few words that can take either spelling. For some of these examples, one spelling is simply a less-common variant version of the other. However, in a few instances, the meaning of the word will determine which spelling is appropriate.
In these examples, both spellings are considered correct, but one is much more common and is thus preferred over the other:
Spelling determined by meaning
With these pairs of words, one particular spelling is more commonly associated with the word’s meaning as a noun, while the other is associated with its meaning as an adjective.
(especially in British English; more commonly dependent in American English)
(never spelled dependant as an adjective)
(never spelled descendent as a noun)
(can be spelled descendant as an adjective, but this is an uncommon variant)
(can be spelled pendent as a noun, but this is an uncommon variant)
(can be spelled pendant as an adjective, but this is an uncommon variant)
Remember, the word independent is an adjective, so, like the adjective dependent, it is always spelled with “-ent.”
Words that we have to learn
While there are a few helpful conventions and spelling patterns we can follow to help us know whether a word takes the “-ant” or “-ent” ending, there are quite a few words we just have to memorize.
Words ending “-ant”
Words ending “-ent”
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Commonly Confused Suffixes: -able vs. -ible Commonly Confused Suffixes: -ance and -ancy vs. -ence and -ency