Between precedent and precedence


By setting free the woman who stabbed her husband to death, the court seems to have set a bad … (precedent, precedence).

Here comes another pair of words that are tricky to handle. They sound and are spelt alike but they are not to be interchangeably used, although only few people realise this. Well, what is the right option for the gap in the clause above?

As you attempt to decide that, consider this question too:

The monarch said the rebuilding of the burnt market should take … over the construction of the hall. (precedent/precedence)

‘Precedence’, which can stand alone or be used with ‘over’ depending on the context, is the ‘condition of being more important than somebody or something else.’ As a result, its synonyms include priority, pre-eminence and seniority:

National interest ought to take precedence over ethnic considerations.

It is unfortunate that many politicians give personal enrichment precedence over communal development.

The labour leaders came on to the platform in order of precedence. (This means in order of seniority or with the most important first.)

‘Precedent’, on the other hand, can convey some three related ideas. As a countable noun, it refers to an action, a situation or decision that has already happened and can be used as a reason why a similar action or decision should be performed or made:

There are precedents for celebrating the Independence Day without much ceremony. (This means it has been done before.)

Sacking the minister without first querying him will set a bad precedent.

The noun can also refer to the way something has been done in the past which, thus, shows the correct way:

It will break with precedent to travel without first informing your parents.

The referee disallowed the goal because allowing it  would break with the precedent of offside rule.

Note the use of ‘break with’ in this context.

In law, ‘precedent’ means a decision about a particular legal case that makes it likely that other similar cases will be decided in the same way:

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The judgement on over-voting has set a precedent.

Falana said there was no precedent for the jailing of the widow. In this wise, ‘precedent’ is countable as further exemplified thus:

There are many legal precedents for the judge’s decision.

Incidence or incident?

The precedence-precedent issue echoes the relationship between incidence and incident. Incident refers to an occurrence or an event, but incidence normally describes the rate or frequency at which such an event happens:

I was not there when the incident happened.

The incident forced the government to shut the school.

Robbery incidence is high in the city.

Police are worried at the rising incidence of rape in the community.

Produce vs product

Candidates who will soon sit the West African Senior Secondary Examination, Unified Tertiary Examination as well as the National Council of Examination should particularly watch out for the likes of precedence/precedent and incident/incidence intrigues. Here is another one:

Chief Akinlaja is banking on his farm … for his children’s school fees. (product/produce)

In farming, ‘produce’ as a noun is the appropriate term, while ‘product’, among other meanings, applies to companies and other business organisations, in terms of what they manufacture or offer. So, the chief here is banking on his farm produce, while Cadbury is introducing its new products to the market.

Lastly, what is the correct option for the gap in the clause below?

John had to stay at home because he could not … the fare for the trip.

(avoid/afford/affirm) ,

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