Is it Ascent or Assent – What’s the Difference?

The English language is full of words that sound and look the same; this makes knowing which word to use very confusing. Words that sound the same, but have different spellings, are called homophones and can create frustration in both writing and speech. 

Ascent vs. assent are perfect examples of two words that are pronounced the same and spelled similarly. We define these words below and explain where to use them to help avoid any confusion in your writing. 

What’s the Difference Between Ascent and Assent?

Ascent and assent are pronounced exactly the same and look similar but mean two very different things. 

Ascent means (1) the act of rising or moving upward or (2) an upward slope. It’s the opposite of descent.

The definition of assent can be either used as a noun or a verb. As a noun, it means “an agreement or acquiescence.” As a verb, it means “to express agreement or acceptance, as of a proposal.” 

When to Use Ascent 

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Ascent is the act of moving upwards, both figuratively and literally. It refers to walking or climbing upwards, flying upwards, or the route being taken upwards. 

For example:

  • The ascent up the mountain was marked by rugged, rocky terrain. 
  • We watched the ascent of the newest rocket due to dock with the space station later that evening. 

It also indicates a movement closer to goodness, spirituality, or a higher being. Or it can mean advancing towards a leadership role or career choice.

For example:

  • His ascent to power was met with approval by the people.  

When to Use Assent

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Assent works to indicate agreement or permission, often in a nonverbal manner, such as with a nod of the head.  

For example:

  • She wasn’t impressed when I asked if I could stay out later, but she nodded in assent.

Assent can also describe the expression of agreement, meaning to agree to or give in when used in verb form. When used in this manner, the word assent is often followed by the word to. 

For example:

  • He had no problem assenting to her request for a weekend getaway. 

Origins of Ascent and Assent

Assent derives from the Latin word assentārī, meaning to agree with or approve. It worked its way into English use around the mid-13th century and has stayed true to its original meaning. 

Ascent is a derivative of ascending, which originates from the Latin word ascendere, meaning to climb up. Ascend has also been used throughout the centuries and first appeared in English during the mid-14th century. The form, ascent, made its way into use during the early 17th century. 

How to Remember the Difference Between Ascent and Assent

If you are struggling to remember the differences between ascent and assent, you might want to consider using their opposite meaning to help keep them from becoming confused. Their antonyms, or opposite meanings, are also homophones but may help clarify their use for you. 

The antonym of ascent is descent, which means to go down, drop, or fall. 

The antonym of assent is dissent, which means not agreeing with or having a different opinion. 

A Word on Accent

Accent is another word that looks and sounds very similar to assent and ascent, but is very different in how it is both pronounced and used. Accent means to place an emphasis on a syllable or word related to strong local, national, or social class pronunciations.

For example, those who live in the Southern regions of the US are considered to have a Southern accent or rural accent.

Those who are from another country and apply an accent to foreign words are considered to have an accent pronunciation. For example, somebody might be said to have a French accent if French is their native language. 

Examples of Ascent and Assent Used in Sentences

He stuck his finger into a jar of red ink and left an imprint signifying his assent. [New York Times]

There has been no stopping the ascent of Alexa Chung’s well-documented style. [Telegraph]

The speaker praised BP’s decision to assent to demands that they create an account in escrow to pay out claims it faces as a result of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. [The Hill]

The Benders have made a dizzying ascent into indie stardom since their exodus East. [San Francisco Chronicle]

New laws only come into force once they have been assented to by the president and published in the Government Gazette. [Independent Online]

Let’s Review

Ascent and assent are homophones and may sound exactly the same but mean very different things. 

Ascent means to climb, walk, or move upwards physically. It can also figuratively mean to move upwards in a position or towards a higher understanding. 

Assent is an agreement of sorts or can be used as a verb to express agreement.