Enquiry vs. Inquiry

The English language can be complicated at times, especially if you are not a native speaker, and your original language has little in common with English.  To make matters worst, there is a myriad of words that are separated in spelling by just one letter, leaving folks (native speakers and non-native speakers alike) scratching their heads. One such example is enquiry vs. inquiry.  Let’s takle this one head on.

Girl Pondering Inquiry vs. Engquiry

  • Traditionally, to enquire simply meant “to ask,” while inquire was used for more formal investigations.
  • In the UK, these two words are used interchangeably, but inquire is still the more frequently used word for formal and official investigations.
  • In the US, inquire is the strongly preferred spelling for all uses.

For the most part, you can use both enquire or inquire and not make a mistake. However, these two words have been used in a slightly different way traditionally, at least in the UK, which makes them a pair of commonly confused words.

When to Use Inquire

Inquire is what you’d usually see in American English. It means to “ask” or “investigate”:

Example        She went to the mall to inquire about a seasonal position.

In British English though, inquire is traditionally used for formal or official investigations and queries:

Example        We asked Lord Byron to inquire into the matter of the new football stadium.

Today, the word inquire is used in both British English and American English to denote a general query.

Related: British vs. American spellings

Woman next to an American flag with the words "There will be an official inquiry as to why aliens always seem to land here"

When to Use Enquire

Enquire is primarily used in British English for the general meaning to “ask” or “investigate”:

Example        We’ll go to Will and enquire about the chances of us getting a raise.

Although inquire is also often used in the same way as enquire in British English, it usually doesn’t go the other way around—enquire is not commonly used for official investigations or queries.

Graphic of British guard with the words "No, good sir. You may not enquire about my hat"

Examples 

Here are a few real-life examples of enquiry vs. inquiry, used on both words from both sides of the pond:

Example     WTA Tour Seeks Chinese Inquiry Into Player’s Sexual Assault Accusation

NY Times

Example      Nigeria left-back Juwon Oshaniwa claims Celtic have contacted his Israeli club Ashdod to enquire about his availability.

BBC

Example       What does the new criminal inquiry mean for Donald Trump?

The Boston Globe

 

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