Sergeant or sargent: Which one is the correct spelling?

What does sergeant mean?

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Sergeant or sargent: Which one is the correct spelling?

Sergeant or sargent? You'd be surprised how many people get confused with the spelling of these terms. Are both spellings correct? Let's discuss what the words mean and if you can use "sargent" as an alternative to "sergeant."

What does sergeant mean?

The word "sergeant" is a noun that refers to an enlisted member of a military organisation, like the US Army, police forces, or the UK's Royal Marines. Its abbreviated version "Sgt." is also prevalent. 

It's the name of rank in the army and force. A sergeant is a non-commissioned officer who ranks below staff sergeants and above corporals. In the police force, a police sergeant ranks below a lieutenant (US Police) or an inspector (UK Police). 

The word also has a different spelling, serjeant. You will commonly see its use in organisations that follow the footstep of the British Light Infantry. Sergeant is a rank in The Rifles and a couple of other units.  

There are also the titles serjeant-at-arms for English lords and monarchs and serjeant-at-law for English lawyers. 

Examples using the word "sergeant":

  • Sergeant Louis Dugas of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division led a parachute jump into Nazi Germany.
  • The sergeant must guide his platoon safely to the enemy outpost.
  • The police sergeant looked at the arrested man with disdain.
  • All sergeants were busy training fresh recruits.

The word is a standard common noun. But when you use it as an adjective to mention the rank of a particular person, it has to be capitalised:

  • We're all counting on Sergeant Henderson to bring us the supplies. 

You can use the abbreviated form in the same context:

  • We're all counting on Sgt. Henderson to bring us the supplies.

What does sargent mean?

"Sargent" does not mean anything because it's a misspelling of the word "sergeant." People make this mistake mainly because of the pronunciation of "sergeant."

As it sounds /sɑːdʒ(ə)nt/ instead of /sɜ:dʒ(ə)nt/, it's easy to think that the spelling also follows the pronunciation. 

Another reason for the confusion is "sarge," the shorter form of "sergeant." It makes people think that the word starts with "sa" instead of "se."

Sergeant or sargent: The etymology

The pronunciation of the word seems to be the root of all confusion. 

  • American pronunciation: saar·jnt
  • British pronunciation: saa·jnt

The word almost sounds like "sargent," which might have made people think it to be the right word. 

You might be wondering why the first syllable of "sergeant" is pronounced like /sar/ instead of /sɜr/. The answer lies in its origins in a French word.  

The word "sergeant" comes from the 13th-century Old French word "sergent". The French word had its root in "servient" (noun) or "servire" (verb), meaning servant or attendant. 

During the Middle English period, the word had a couple of spelling variations with two pronunciations: SERgent and SARgeant. "SERgent" sounded closer to the pronunciation of the French word, but the pronunciation "SARgent" became gradually popular. 

The dictionary writers in the 19th century finalised the spelling "sergeant". Still, they settled for the popular pronunciation "SARgent" instead of the one matching the spelling.

You will find examples in the English language where the sound shifting follows the change in the spelling. For examples: 

  • Clerk vs clarke
  • Merchant vs marchant
  • Farmer vs fermor

The old spellings are still prevalent in the case of names of people and places. "Sergeant" is another example of keeping the old spelling with a changed pronunciation.

FAQs about sergeant or sargent

How do you spell "sergeant" as "sergeant in the army?"

The correct spelling, in this case, is always sergeant. The word refers to a rank in uniformed organizations, including the army and air force. Its correct abbreviation is Sgt.; an informal, shorter version is "sarge."

What is the meaning of "Sargent?"

The word does not have any meaning because it's a spelling mistake of the word "sergeant." It's also a proper noun since it's used as a surname. There was also an Italian-born American painter named John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).

How do you spell "sergeant" in the British Army?

The spelling will be "sergeant," referring to the second-in-command of a platoon consisting of up to 35 soldiers. However, the Royal Marines and British Army also used "serjeant" until the 1930s. The House of Parliament's security staff members still use the rank "Serjeant-at-Arms." The Light Infantry and The Rifles also still use the old spelling.

What's the difference between "sargent" and "staff sergeant?"

A staff sergeant in the US Army is a non-commissioned officer who ranks below the sergeant first class but above the sergeant. A sergeant, on the other hand, is a junior officer leading a 12-soldier or 36-soldier squad. A staff sergeant's pay grade is E-6, while the grade is E-5 for sergeants. 

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