Using Proceed vs Precede

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

The homonyms 'proceed' and 'precede' can cause confusion, but a reader or writer can tell them apart by paying attention to the prefixes at the beginning of each word, which give a clue to their meaning. This lesson will help you decode the prefixes.

Pay Attention to the Prefix

If you are going to the museum, should you 'proceed' to the museum or 'precede' to the museum? 'Proceed' and 'precede' are words that sound and look similar, but their subtle differences are key in knowing which to use.

Adding to the confusion, both words are verbs, or action words. This means that they have the same job in a sentence, which is to show the action or movement that the noun (person, place, or thing) is doing.

'Proceed' and 'precede' give a nice clue as to which one is which, as long as you know where to look. And that place is the beginning of the word. Both of these words have a prefix that gives a clue as to its meaning. Prefixes are common beginning to syllables to words, such as 're-', and 'sub-', for example, or in this case 'pre-', and 'pro-'.

These prefixes typically have a specific meaning, which gives a clue to the meaning of the word. 'Re', for example, means 'again', and comes at the beginning of words that have to do with doing something again, like 'return' means to bring something back to where it once was, or 'repeat' which means to do an action over again. So let's look at 'proceed' and 'precede' and their prefixes.


The prefix 'pro-', which comes at the beginning of 'proceed', means 'advance' or 'forward'. It comes at the beginning of words that have to do with moving forward or making something, like 'progress', 'propel', and 'provide.'

So 'proceed' means to begin something or to move forward with something. This can be a literal moving forward like going somewhere, or a more figurative one, like moving ahead on a project. Let's take a look at a few examples of it in action:

  • 'We received approval from the boss and were allowed to proceed with redesigning the company logo.' They were allowed to go ahead and redesign the logo.
  • 'The doctor decided it was best to proceed with the surgery even though it was risky.' The doctor will go ahead with the surgery.
  • 'The army started to proceed toward the village.' The army started to head toward to the village.
  • 'We can proceed with our plans to sell our house.' The plans to sell the house can move forward.

The doctor decided it was best to proceed with the surgery even though it was risky.


The prefix 'pre' means 'before' and comes at the beginning of words that have to do with coming before something else. Some examples include 'preview', 'preliminary', and, well, 'prefix', which means a part of the word that comes at the beginning.

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