How to use accept and except

To accept is to receive, and except is to exclude, usually. Both are busy little words skipping around to different meanings, but they never run into each other.



Please accept (“favorably receive”) our apologies, but you’re just going to have to accept (“put up with”) the fact that this verb has almost a dozen different meanings.

You might accept (“take”) bribes from people who dislike multiple meanings, or they might challenge you to a duel, which you might accept (“consent to”). When historians record your story, you might accept (“officially receive”) their books and accept (“hold as true”) the most flattering one. When you apply to cool-people clubs, they’ll accept (“admit”) you, and when you go broke, they’ll accept (“take on”) your debt, until the day your coffin accepts (“takes”) your weary accepting bones.


The preposition except means “excluding.” When we refer to the continental United States, we mean the whole country except Alaska and Hawaii.

This word can also be used as a conjunction meaning “but”: If you’re not very hungry, you might not eat anything, except a few crackers. As a verb, except is often used in the past tense: All drivers must obey the speed limit, but ambulances rushing to the hospital are excepted. Much more rare is the use ofexcept as a verb meaning “to object,” which we find mostly in legal contexts.

To accept is to receive something like tea, an idea, or a student into your college:

He accepted tea from Annette without looking at her. (Mary Cholmondeley)

Comments are accepted for a month before guidance is adopted. (Seattle Times)

Mary J. Blige Says She’s Been Accepted To Howard University, Howard Disagrees (Huffington Post)

It’s difficult to find accept used incorrectly. Score one for English speakers! It’s accept‘s nemesis, except, that poses problems. Except usually means “unless” or “excluding,” but it’s sometimes used as verb “to leave out.” Read all the examples below except the ones you don’t like:

He defined solitary confinement as an inmate being held in isolation from allexcept guards for at least 22 hours a day. (Reuters)

Quiet, benign, his gestures small but eloquent, he barely talks except about the music. (New York Times)

But thickness excepted, he made about the same figure in the street next day. (Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson)

It’s the verb form that confuses, and it’s usually except when accept is wanted. So remember: to accept is to receive or believe something, but to except is to leave out. Accept something by giving it an A, or exclude it with a big fat X for except.

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