Can’t tell ‘practice’ from ‘practise’? Don’t know whether to use ‘licence’ or ‘license’? Don’t know why the Department of Defence isn’t called that in the US? Mind Your Language is here to help.
Picture from Department Of Defence
For Australian English, the basic rule for all these words is simple:
- the spelling which uses a C is the noun form.
- the spelling which uses an S is the verb form.
Thus a doctor runs a practice during the week, but practises golf skills on the weekend. You license software under a licence agreement. And there is no defence for getting the word ‘defence’ wrong, as there isn’t a parallel verb form (the relevant word is ‘defend’).
One reason people get this wrong so often? US English inverts those rules and uses the ‘s’ spelling for nouns, and those spellings are commonly encountered online. That does not make them correct in Australia. Unless you’re writing for a completely American audience, or referring to the US Department of Defense, you should use the Australian spellings, especially in a professional context.
Two other related traps:
- The correct expression is ‘practice makes perfect’. While the action involved is practising, which might make you think the verb form is needed, the expression describes the ongoing activity of doing that, which is a noun, not a verb.
- The one time an s does show up in ‘defence’ is when you turn it into the adjectival form ‘defensible’.
How can you learn this? Through repeated practice.
Lifehacker’s Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.