• 2-minute read
  • 10th April 2016

Word Choice: Cent, Scent or Sent?

It’s bad enough when two words sound the same, but some homophones come in threes. ‘Cent’, ‘scent’ and ‘sent’, for instance, are pronounced identically, yet each has a distinct meaning, so you should try not to confuse them in your written work.

In today’s post, we clarify exactly what ‘cent’, ‘scent’ and ‘sent’ mean, along with how (and when) they should be used.

Cent (A Penny)

‘Cent’ isn’t a word we use often in the UK, since it refers to 1/100th of various units of currency, such as dollars and euros:

A nickel is worth five cents; a dime is worth ten cents.

This makes a cent equivalent to a penny in these currencies (often represented with a ‘¢’ symbol).

Handily labelled to avoid confusion [Photo: United States Mint].
Handily labelled to avoid confusion [Photo: United States Mint].
The Latin term ‘centum’ meant 100, so ‘cent’ also appears in other places where something is divided into 100 (such as a ‘percentage’ or a ‘century’).

Scent (Smell)

A ‘scent’ is a smell, usually agreeable or pleasant (like a perfume):

The scent she wore was enchanting.

We also use ‘scent’ as a noun to refer to the odour or trail left by a passing human or animal:

Burglar Bob knew he’d be caught if the hounds caught his scent.

Alternatively, ‘scent’ can be used as a verb meaning ‘to sense by smell’:

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The hounds scented Burglar Bob and were soon on his trail.

Sure, she looks cute... until she hunts you down. [Photo: Bruce (Flickr)]
Sure, she looks cute… until she hunts you down. [Photo: Bruce (Flickr)]
Whichever way you use it, though, ‘scent’ always relates to smell.

Sent (To Have Dispatched)

‘Sent’ is the past tense of ‘send’, so we use it when describing something as having been dispatched, such as a message or letter:

After checking her spelling, Gina sent the e-mail to her supervisor.

This applies regardless of whether the thing being dispatched is physical (‘he sent a letter’), a signal (‘they sent a distress call’) or even a person (‘the messenger was sent from Rome’).

Cent, Scent or Sent?

Although similar in spelling and pronunciation, each of these words is distinct. However, as long as you can remember the following, it should be easy to tell them apart:

Cent = A penny (1/100th of a unit of currency)

Scent = A smell or perfume

Sent = The past tense of ‘send’

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