Origins & Usage Notes

  • Both suffixes can be attached to verbs to form abstract nouns of process or fact, e.g. convergence (from converge), or of state or quality, e.g. absence (from absent); they can also be attached to adjectives, e.g. intelligence (from intelligent), sapience (from sapient).
Origins Examples Exceptions/Notes
Ultimately from Latin –antia and –entia, which depended on the vowel in the stem word, from PIE *-nt-, adjectival suffix; as Old French evolved from Latin, these were levelled to –ance. assistance, complaisance, countenance, nuisance, parlance *Except for audience (literally the process of hearing), these are nouns of action or process.
Later French borrowings from Latin (some of them subsequently passed to English) used the appropriate Latin form of the ending, as did words borrowed by English directly from Latin. absence, difference, diligence, presence, providence, prudence, violence *Except for elegance, temperance, etc., these are nouns of quality or state.
English thus inherited a confused mass of words from French (crescent/croissant), and further confused it since c. 1500 by restoring –ence selectively in some forms of these words to conform with Latin. Thus dependant, but independence, etc. attendance, superintendence; ascendant, condescendence; dependant, independence; appearance, apparent; pertinence, appurtenance Confusion often occurs in groups of cognate words, e.g. assistance, consistence, existence, resistance, subsistence.
As, in many cases, the Old French verbs themselves, as well as their derivatives in –ance, were adopted in English, the suffix became to a certain extent a living formative, and was occasionally used to form similar nouns of action on native verbs. appearance, assistance, purveyance, sufferance; abidance, forbearance, furtherance, hindrance, riddance  
*This is because in sense, words in –nce are partly nouns of action, as in Old French, partly of state or quality, as in Latin. The latter idea is more distinctly expressed by the variant –ncy which has been formed in English as a direct adaptation of Latin –ntia.
  • If the word is formed from a verb that ends in –y, –ure, or –ear, then the ending will be spelled –ance, e.g. alliance (from ally), endurance (from endure), appearance (from appear).
  • If the main part of the word (i.e. the bit before the ending) ends in a ‘hard’ c (pronounced like the c in cab) or a ‘hard’ g (pronounced like the g in game), then the ending will be spelled –ance, elegance (from elegant), significance (from significant).
  • If the noun is related to a verb ending in –ate, then the ending is likely to be –ance, e.g. tolerance (from tolerate).
  • If the word is formed from a verb ending in –ere, then the ending will be spelled –ence, reverence (from revere), adherence (from adhere), coherence (from cohere). Note that the word perseverance (from persevere) is an exception to this rule.
  • If the main part of the word ends in a soft c (pronounced like the c in cell) or a soft g (pronounced like the g in gin), then the ending will be –ence, e.g. adolescence (from adolescent), emergence (from emergent). Note that the word vengeance (from avenge) is an exception to this rule.

Word Formation Resource

4 Points

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