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“Proceed” vs. “Precede”: What’s the Difference?

Updated on May 11, 2023Writing Tips

There are a lot of confusing words out there: homophones like affect and effect, different tenses of the same word like choose and chose, or the grammatically challenging who vs. whom.

Another particularly puzzling pair of words is proceed and precede. These two words have similar pronunciations and similar meanings. Proceed refers to a forward motion, while precede refers to one thing coming before another. Below we’ll explain the definitions of proceed and precede, how to use them, and some tips for remembering the difference.

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Table of contents

How to use proceed vs. precede

Tips to remember proceed vs. precede

Proceed vs. precede examples

Proceed vs. precede FAQs

How to use proceed vs. precede

The definition of proceed is “to begin or continue a course of action.” The definition of precede is “to be earlier than”—the prefix pre– means “before.”

The pronunciation of the words proceed and precede sounds similar, especially to an English language learner. Proceed is pronounced PRO-seed, while precede is pronounced PRUH-seed.

Some words or phrases that can be substituted for proceed are continue, carry on, and begin. Words or phrases that are synonyms for precede include lead up to, predate, and go/come before.

Proceed examples

George was distracted by a loud siren and stopped speaking in the middle of his sentence. When the noise stopped, the teacher asked him to proceed.

In this instance, George is being asked to carry on or continue talking.

Michelle wouldn’t stop talking about themself and proceeded to list every accolade they’d received since middle school.

In this instance, Michelle is both continuing to talk about themself and beginning to list their achievements.

Proceed variation: The other way you might see proceeds used is to mean “money gained from an event.” For example, the proceeds of a charity dinner will go to the local animal shelter.

Precede examples

Preschool is the earliest form of school; it precedes kindergarten and elementary school.

Preschool comes before other types of schools, so it precedes them.

Pru preceded her poem with a short introduction.

Before beginning her poem, Pru began with an introduction.

Precede exception: Another definition for precede is “to surpass in rank or dignity.”

Tips to remember proceed vs. precede

A simple way to understand the difference between proceed and precede is to remember that proceed is related to action and precede is related to time.

To proceed means something is moving from one situation to the next.

Think about the phrase, “please proceed to the nearest exit,” which is often posted on emergency signs. If there’s a fire, then it’s time to proceed to that exit (in other words, get going, run, move, move, move!).

To precede means something that happens before another thing.

You can also look for clues in words that are related to proceed and precede.

For example:

The word procession is similar to proceed. A funeral procession is a line of cars driving down the road (to the cemetery). They are moving forward together. To proceed is to move forward.

The word precedent is closely related to precede. A precedent is an earlier action that serves as a guide. It is something that has happened before. To precede is to happen before something.

Proceed vs. precede examples

If your application is selected, you will proceed to the interview phase.

The application phase precedes the interview phase.

After dinner, we’ll proceed to the dance floor.

Dinner precedes dancing.

She developed such an interest in taking pictures on her phone that she proceeded to sign up for local photography classes.

Her interest in taking photos on her phone preceded her formal photography education.

Proceed vs. precede FAQs

What does proceed mean?

Proceed is a verb that means “to begin or continue an action in motion.”

What does precede mean?

Precede is a verb that means “to come before something else.”

What’s the difference between proceed and precede?

Proceed is associated with movement and actions. One might proceed to the nearest exit or proceed to talk about themself for hours. Precede is associated with the timing of something. An appetizer precedes a main course.

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