Word Choice: License vs. Licence
  • 3-minute read
  • 27th March 2020

Word Choice: License vs. Licence

In American English, we always spell “license” with an “s.” But you might also have seen the word “licence” used in places like the UK and Australia. So, is this just a variant spelling? Or is there a difference between “license” and “licence”?

Read on to find out how to use these terms correctly in your writing.

License in American English (Noun and Verb)

In the US, “license” (spelled with an “s”) is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it refers to a document or permit granting permission to do, own, or use something. For instance, we could say:

James Bond has a license to kill.

You can also use it to describe the freedom to do something:

Duchamp had great artistic license.

As a verb, it means either “grant a license” or “give permission or freedom”:

James Bond is licensed to kill.

Duchamp felt licensed to do as he pleased.

In all cases, though, we spell this word with an “s.” So if you are using American English or writing for a US audience, you will never need to use the spelling “licence.” This only becomes an issue once you move beyond North America…

License (Verb) and Licence (Noun) in Other Dialects

In British and Australian English, the verb form of “license” is the same:

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James Bond is licensed to kill.

Duchamp felt licensed to do as he pleased.

However, when used as a noun, these dialects spell it with a “c” instead:

James Bond has a licence to kill.

Duchamp had great artistic licence.

This makes it similar to “practise” (verb) and “practice” (noun), which are also distinct in British and Australian English. And likewise, American English only uses one spelling here (i.e., “practice” is both a noun and a verb in the US).

Summary: License or Licence?

In American English, this term is always spelled “license.” This is correct regardless of whether you’re using it as a noun (i.e., a permit) or a verb (i.e., granting a permit). This makes it easy to remember!

However, in British and Australian English, these terms are distinct:

  • License (with an “s”) is a verb.
  • Licence (with a “c”) is a noun.

Thus, if you’re writing for an audience outside the USA, make sure to pick the right spelling! And if you’d like any help making sure your documents are always error free, get in touch with our expert editors today.

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