Benef-

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A number of words begin with the letters benef-. The first element is the Latin bene 'well', and the '-f-' normally derives from the verb facĕre, 'to make or do', in one of its forms. The meaning is generally of 'an advantage', 'something to one's favour', 'a good thing', often but not at all always with an indication of charitable giving.

  • The base word is probably benefit, which can be either a noun or a verb. (It comes from the Latin (bene factus) through French bienfait, 'well done'.) For advice on the spelling of the inflections of the verb see benefit (forms).
    • The noun 'a benefit' means 'an advantage', 'something gained to do the recipient good'. It has some special senses:
      • Most commonly, in general use, it means a form of payment, usually by the state, to people otherwise financially unlucky. OED's meaning 4 d. is "That which a person is entitled to in the way of pecuniary assistance, medical or other attendance, pension, and the like, under the National Insurance Act of 1911 and similar subsequent Acts, or as a member of a benefit (or friendly) society; more explicitly maternity, medical, sick(ness) benefit." The informal phrase "on benefits" means 'with all income derived from such payments'.
      • A benefit game, or benefit performance, is a sports match, or theatrical entertainment, whose profits are given to one player, or actor, to show appreciation, often on retirement.
      • Historically, benefit of clergy was the privilege granted to those working for the Church of freedom from trials conducted in the ordinary (secular) lawcourts. Membership of the clergy was eventually (1351) proved by a demonstration of literacy. See neck-verse. In modern times, the phrase has sometimes been applied humorously to couples who are living together without being married to each other. "They are living without benefit of clergy" means what an older generation would have called 'living in sin': that is, enjoying a sexual relationship without having undertaken the 'necessary' ceremonial "joining in matrimony".
    • The verb 'to benefit means, intransitively, 'to gain an advantage', or 'to profit', from something or someone: "I benefited more than I can tell from my university education." Transitively, it means 'to give an advantage to' someone: "My education benefited me greatly." (For the spelling of the verb-forms, see benefit (verb).)
  • In the field of charitable 'good works', the root is usually more directly from the Latin: benefact-, or its adjectival inflection benefic-.
    • A benefactor is a patron, especially someone who endows a charitable or religious cause. Commonly, academic institutions record their gratitude to benefactors: one of the great occasions in Oxford University's year is Commemoration Week, when Benefactors are publicly remembered. Oxford Colleges traditionally hold Commem. Balls during this week, which follows the ending of the examinations. Cambridge Colleges hold Feasts to commemorate Benefactors; and the University Library's entrance stair, like many public buildings, displays the names of major donors in a 'List of Benefactors'. The feminine form, little used nowadays, is benefactress. It had rare forms in the past, benefactrice and benefactrix.
    • The gift, or bequest, that a donor makes is a benefaction.
    • The recipient of a benefaction is a beneficiary, and one hopes that the gift is beneficial to ('acts to the benefit of') the recipient.
  • The adjective beneficent (unlike most of these words, this is stressed on the second syllable, 'be-NEFF-iss-ent', IPA: /bɪ 'nɛ fɪ sənt/) means 'doing good'. There is a related abstract noun beneficence ('be-NEFF-iss-ense'), 'doing good', or "active kindness" (OED). For a note on a possible homophone confusion, see -nce - -nts. There is also a Table listing some more common such confusions.
  • A benefice (which may lead to some confusion with 'benefit(s)' as they are near-homophones) is now always an "ecclesiastical living": an income gained by virtue of a post in a church, nearly always that of a semi-permanent appointment to be in charge of a parish. The verb 'to benefice' means 'to appoint to a benefice', or 'to give an ecclesiastical living to': it is not common, and is most likely to be seen in the passive participle in phrases such as "he is a beneficed clergyman".