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It seems that exemption and exception have the same meaning. However, they seem to be used differently. When should we use one and not the other?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

They do have similar meanings. They both refer to leaving out an item from a set. The difference is how they are left out.

  • an exemption is left out of the set by an authority or man-made rule. For example, a tax exemption, is money you received but does not have to be counted as part of our income because the tax laws explicitly say it's OK to ignore (presumably with the law created for some economic incentive purpose).

  • an exception has no such man-made connotations (i.e. an exemption might be considered a kind of exception, but might be totally arbitrary). The number 2 is an exception to the idea that all prime numbers are odd (one would never use exemption in that context).

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Thanks for the explanation. This is very clear and is never explained in dictionary. –  jpartogi Mar 24 '11 at 0:47
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Dictionaries...even the most detailed, like the OED (for English), just don't explain the nuances that a native speaker knows immediately. –  Mitch Mar 24 '11 at 13:37
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