-nce - -nts
This page is likely to change in the near(-ish) future - for an explanation, see the account in the category page at Category:-nce - -nts.
Words ending in -nce with partners ending in -nt (and -nts in the plural form one of a number of groups of words in English that lead to confusion, perhaps more among non-native speakers than among those who learnt it as a mother tongue. They are generally derived from Latin words, although a few have been formed on this model without themselves having existed in Latin. (Some words that may appear to fall into the pattern are purely co-incidental.)
There is a Table listing some of the words that fall into this pattern at -nce - -nts (Table).
In general, the difference between the word endings -nt and -nce is based on the word class of the root. (The differences in the vowels are due to the differences between different conjugations, or classes, of verbs: these have no relevance in English.) In Latin grammar,
- -antem, -entem -ientem and -uentem were suffixes that marked the present participle of a verb. So English words that end in -ant, -ent, -ient or -uent are usually adjectives; otherwise they tend to be descriptions of people, or their jobs: the noun agents. Agent is of course one such agent noun: it means 'the person who is acting', 'the do-er' of something. ('Agent' comes from the Latin verb agere, 'to do'; the present participle is ag-ens in the subjective and ag-entem in the objective cases.)
- -antia, -entia or -ientia (which in English form -ance and -ence, sometimes -ancy) and -ency are suffixes which tends to mark abstract nouns.
Where there is a confusion between the two types of ending, it is usually between the abstract noun (ending in -nce) and the plural of the agent (ending -nts), because in all but the most careful speech, these are homophones. There is a table of some commonly confused words of this sort at -nce - -nts (Table). The -nt words listed are mostly adjectives as well as nouns, and so are listed in the singular form, without '-s'. But the biggest problems come when they are used in the plural, as nouns.