“Precede” vs. “Proceed”—Which way to go?

I hope no one has proceeded/preceded us on this treasure hunt; I don’t want to proceed/precede for nothing!

Confused whether to choose proceed or precede? What’s the difference, anyway?

Well, we cannot commit for the treasure, but can surely untwine these two words for you!

The English language is full of words which are distinct, but appear similar. Some have the same sound; some have the same spelling. The difference lies in their meaning!

Two such confusing words are proceed and precede. While both the words are verbs that indicate the action of ‘going’, it is the where and the when of this action that brings in the distinction.

Precede means to happen before something or to go in front of someone.

For instance, the sentence

In the section just before this one, we showed that the value decreased with time.

can be written as

 In the preceding section, we showed that the value decreased with time.

Also, the sentence

The soldiers were in front of the Nairs or nobles of Malabar.

can be written as

The Nairs or nobles of Malabar were preceded by the soldiers.

Proceed means to continue or to go/move forward.

For instance, the sentence

The reaction continued after the intracytoplasmic sperm was injected.

can be written as

The reaction proceeded after the intracytoplasmic sperm was injected.

Precede and proceed, both, express an order of occurrence for a series of events. Using one word for the other could change the intended order.

In academic writing, such an oversight is not acceptable, as it can easily lead to miscommunication. Especially, while illustrating pathways or processes, the chronology of events must be correctly conveyed with the right choice of words.

Fortunately, we can help you avoid such confusion.

Tips to remember the difference

The easiest way to differentiate these two words is by focusing on the prefix ‘pre’. ‘Pre’ means ‘before’.

Example: Precedent, preclude, previous

So if you want to talk about something that has happened before say ‘precede’.

Use ‘proceed’ to tell what is happening next!

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