The English language is full of commonly confused words.
Inquiry and enquiry are two of these, and it’s clear why—they are similar in sound and spelling. Additionally, the two words are used differently in different countries.
In this article, we’ll look at the meanings of enquiry and inquiry, and how they’re used in American English vs British English.
Enquire vs Inquire Meaning
Enquire and inquire are often used interchangeably. Both words are verbs which ask for information. They originate from the Latin word quaere, which means “to ask or seek.”
Enquire means to ask a question in a general way or in a way that doesn’t require an in-depth answer. Inquiry means to ask for information in a formal way, such as in an investigation.
However, the use of each word varies by country. Americans use inquire to refer to asking a regular question and to investigating.
Enquire is used in America as well but to a lesser degree. So, if you’re in America and use the words interchangeably, you probably won’t be penalized.
In British English however, the words are not interchangeable. Enquire only refers to asking a general question. It’s used when the speaker isn’t looking for a detailed answer. For example, when you want to check on someone or need quick details you will enquire about it.
- Mary called the station to enquire about their train schedules.
In the sentence above Mary asks a general question so enquire is appropriate.
Inquire is used for formal investigations or other official situations. For example, when a school board wants to look into allegations of plagiarism, they will inquire about it.
- The school board met to inquire into the accusations of plagiarism.
The Difference Between Inquiry vs Enquiry
Similarly to their root words—enquire and inquire—enquiry and inquiry essentially have the same meaning.
Both words refer to the act of asking for information. They follow the same rules as enquire and inquire—as well as their plural counterparts, enquiries and inquiries.
Inquiry refers to the act of asking a question in a formal way.
Enquiry is the act of asking a question in a general way.
In American English, inquiry and enquiry are used interchangeably. However, like enquire, enquiry is much more popular.
When to Use Inquiry
Inquiry is used in British English as a synonym for a formal investigation. In American English, however, it is used to refer to both a formal question as well as the act of asking a general question.
- The next day, he promised a judicial inquiry into the cause of the accident.
When to Use Enquiry
If you’re writing for an American audience then you shouldn’t use enquiry. In fact, many Americans think the word enquiry is a spelling mistake.
In British English however, the difference between enquiry and inquiry is observed. Enquiry is used in the general sense of asking a question.
- There’s a student on the phone who has an enquiry about the course dates.
If the above sentence was written in an American publication or for an American audience, it would look like this:
- There’s a student on the phone who has an inquiry about the course dates.
Examples of Inquiry vs Enquiry in Sentences
Here are a few examples of how enquiry and inquiry are used in sentences.
- A commission of inquiry will be continuing their investigations
- The report marked the culmination of a year-long inquiry.
- After the initial inquiry, the police ruled that the driver was okay to continue home.
- My mother loves to have a daily enquiry into how my day went.
- I sent an email enquiry about the open position.
- Did you make an enquiry into the ticket prices like I asked?
Tips for Remembering the Difference Between Inquiry vs Enquiry
In addition to bookmarking this article, here are a few tips to help you remember the difference between inquiry and enquiry.
- Enquire means to ask a general question, while inquire means to ask a formal question.
- British English favors the use of enquiry for regular questions and the word inquiry for formal investigations.
- American English uses inquiry and enquiry interchangeably, however, inquiry is more commonly used.
You can also use ProWritingAid’s grammar checker to help you choose between inquiry vs enquiry. You’ll get to select which English dialect you prefer (American, British, Canadian, etc.) and then the tool will flag any words that deviate from this.