• 2-minute read
  • 3rd March 2020

Word Choice: Inquire vs. Enquire

Depending on where you look, you may see the words “inquire” and “enquire” used interchangeably. But is this correct? Do they mean the same thing? And are both spellings accepted in American English?

Check out our tips if you want to avoid errors when using these terms!

Inquire (Ask About)

In American English, the verb “inquire” means “ask about” or “investigate”:

To inquire about tickets, phone the box office.

The noun form of this word, meanwhile, is “inquiry”:

We will hold an inquiry into our staffing policy.

As such, we use “inquire” and “inquiry” for any situation where we’re seeking information. This could be a simple question. Or it could be a formal process (e.g., a police investigation or scientific study).

So, what about “enquire” and “enquiry”? Generally, we don’t use these spellings in American English. To most people, they’re simply old-fashioned spellings of “inquire” and “inquiry.” However, there used to be a distinction between these terms, which you will still find in other English dialects.

The Traditional Difference Between “Inquire” and “Enquire”

Traditionally, “enquire” was used to mean “ask about” in the same way as shown above. This is still the case in British and Australian English. For instance, in the UK they might say:

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To enquire about tickets, phone the box office.

“Inquire,” meanwhile, only refers to a thorough, systematic investigation in countries like the UK and Australia. As such, in British English, we would say:

For this study, we will inquire into the origins of queueing.

We will hold an inquiry into our staffing policy.

In American English, though, we use “inquire” and “inquiry” for both general questions and formal investigations.

Summary: Inquire or Enquire?

In American English, you should always use “inquire” and “inquiry.” This applies regardless of whether you’re asking a general question or performing a systematic investigation (e.g., a scientific study).

British and Australian English, though, distinguish between “enquire” (ask about) and “inquire” (investigate formally). As such, take care to use the correct spelling if writing for an audience outside the USA.

And if you’d like any help when writing in a different dialect to your own, don’t forget that proofreading can help!

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