How can I choose between "-se" and "-ce" for the spelling of the word ending pronounced /s/. For example, both "sense" and "science" have the ending pronounced /s/.

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    I would never try to get spelling from pronunciation in English, that way madness lies.
    – user26236
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 13:10
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    You simply learn it by rote (by heart) or use a spell checker. There is no rule that says one should be used or the other. The different spelling comes due to the differences in how (or from what other word) the words formed. Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 13:11
  • 6
    ...not to mention the differences in spelling of some words in AmE and BrE (like "license" vs "licence"). Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 13:12
  • And if you ask yourself why pronounciation and spelling are, hm, connected rather "loosely": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoti
    – Stephie
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 13:34
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    – Joe Dark
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


There's not very many patterns that would help in most cases. Small patterns exist but you are better off simply memorizing the spelling of common -ce and -se words.

For example - the c in -ace or -ice at the end of words is almost always pronounced /s/, whereas the s in -ase or -ise would be usually pronounced /z/. So use -ce in that situation.

There are far fewer words that end in -ense than -ence, and likewise less that end in -se with s pronounced /s/, rather than -ce. So if you have to hazard a guess, go with -ce.

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    I'm surprised you don't also mention the difference between American and British English. For example, one would use "defense" in AmE and "defence" in BrE. So depending on context, someone learning the language might see both spellings. Both are correct in their respective contexts and equally understood.
    – Nathan K
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 18:54
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    And, unfortunately, AmE is rather inconsistent with which letter it uses: defense and practice, for example. BrE more consistently uses -ce for noun forms and -se for verb forms; AmE only uses one spelling or the other unless the pronunciation is different: advise, advice, prophesy, prophecy.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 4:32
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    English orthography is a mess. Use spell-checkers (but not auto-corrupt if you can avoid it). Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 4:33
  • Is it true Americans use "defen-se" instead of "defen-ce"? N gram is showing certainly "defence" is decreasing in America...but when considering words such as defensible, defensibly, it looks like to me personally to use "defen-se" is more suitable..
    – user17814
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 11:51
  • >There are far fewer words that end in -ense than -ence, Really? How about such as dense, pretense, tense......
    – user17814
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 12:10

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