Pendant vs. Pendent

By Maeve Maddox

A reader wants to know when to write pendant and when to write pendent.

The answer is not as straightforward as I expected it to be.

British usage and American usage are very clear when it comes to the spelling of the words dependant and dependent.

According to Penguin Writer’s Manual,

In British English, dependent is an adjective and dependant is a noun meaning “a dependent person.” In American English the form dependent is generally used both as an adjective and as a noun.

For example:

British usage: The Jones family includes four dependants: three children and one dependent adult.

American usage: The Jones family includes four dependents: three children and one dependent adult.

According to my supplementary dictionaries, the same distinction between dependant (noun) and dependent (adjective) is drawn in standard Canadian and Australian.

Distinctions between pendant and pendent, however, are not so clear-cut.

The OED gives only one spelling for the noun and only one for the adjective:

pendant (noun): a jewel, bead, tassel, or the like [that] hangs down as an ornament.

pendent (adjective): hanging; suspended from or as from the point of attachment, with the point or end hanging downwards. Of a tree: having branches that hang or droop down.

According to these definitions, the following examples demonstrate correct usage:

The diamond pendant at her throat glittered in the candlelight. (noun)

There are several forms of this native bald cypress, some of them more weeping or pendent than others. (adjective)

But Merriam-Webster and The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary indicate that the spellings are interchangeable, although pendant is given first for the noun and pendent first for the adjective.

The Google Ngram Viewer indicates that “pendant branches” was far more common in English in1800 than “pendent branches.” The two phrases fluctuate on the graph for about a hundred years and then, in 2000, they achieve what looks like equal use.

When I did a Web search for the phrase “pendent branches,” I expected pendent to come up more often than pendant. Instead, I found twice as many examples of “pendant branches” (49,600 to 25,800).

I was especially surprised to find examples of “pendant branches” at these sites:

The Biomathematics Research Centre, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

The University of British Columbia

Oxford Journals, Molecular Biology and Evolution

British speakers have a clear mandate to spell the noun dependant and the adjective dependent. It makes sense for them to apply the same rule to pendant (noun) and pendent (adjective).

The spelling pendant for the noun is well established in American usage, but confusion about pendent is sufficiently widespread for The Chicago Manual of Style to include this admonition in the “good usage vs common usage section”:

pendant, noun; pendent, adj. A pendant is an item of dangling jewelry, especially one worn around the neck. What is pendent is hanging or suspended.

Advice to American speakers: Do as the British do on this one. Spell the noun pendant and the adjective pendent.

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1 Response to “Pendant vs. Pendent”

  • Peter Buxton

    ‘Independent’, however, is used as both noun and adjective as in: ‘independent publishers’ and ‘the independents’. We don’t use ‘the independants’.

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