Enquire vs. Inquire

August 10, 2011

in Writing Style

I received an email from a reader asking me to explain the difference between inquire and enquire. This is an interesting one so thank you Tom from Arizona for prompting this post.

What you will find is that most websites say you can use these two words interchangeably, and if you are writing American English that is generally the case.

Enquire and enquiry are more commonly found in British English, and inquire and inquiry are more common in US English, for both informal questions and formal investigations. However, if you want to be absolutely grammatically correct, or you are writing British English, you should consider the following.

Think about the two words like this: to make an enquiry, and to inquire.

An inquiry is used for a formal investigation, or to inquire into a problem.

An enquiry or to enquire is the general sense of “ask”.

So let’s look at some examples:

“I enquired about the holiday booking”.

“I think I will make an enquiry”.

“I hope the police open an inquiry into the murder”.

“We need to inquire properly into this incident”.

As you can see, the two are used for distinctly different situations.

Where American English is concerned, if you are unsure of the form to use, stick to using inquire or inquiry. However, if you are writing for a publication you should ask about the house style before you begin. Where British English is concerned, you should definitely adhere to the rules above; using inquiry where enquiry is appropriate will appear wrong to English readers.

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