What's The Difference Between 'Inquire' And 'Enquire'?

Inquire and enquire differ by only a single letter, and they both mean, roughly, "ask". How should you choose which one to use?

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The Macquarie Dictionary suggests inquire as the dominant form (enquire directs readers to inquire), but also offers this usage note:

[In the case of] enquire and inquire, the forms are interchangeable. Some organisations, such as newspapers, tend to standardise on the in- form, but there are also those who make a distinction between, for example, an official inquiry and an informal enquiry.

Inquire appears more common in British English (and hence in written Australian English), while enquire is more common in American English. As the Macquarie notes, inquire is often said to refer to a more formal kind of investigation, and inquiry is usually the form used in Australia for government-instigated activities such as the the Fitzgerald Inquiry. In spoken English it isn't always clear which version you've heard, which can lead to confusion over spelling, though not usually over meaning.

As with many thorny language matters, consistency is the best approach: pick a single form and stick to it. If in doubt, we favour inquire and inquiry; that way, you won't mistakenly refer to a non-existent event such as the Fitzgerald Enquiry. Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


    Yeah, I learned the 'dominant' vs. 'non-dominant' way. To me, enquire is when you call up a business to find out what hours they're open. Inquire is when you're investigating something, like who took off with your computer.

    If you'd sit a person down at a table and demand they give you answers, that's an inquiry. If you sit them down and chat to find out about what they've been up to, that's an enquiry.

      INquiring = INvestigating
      sweet. ive got wha ti need, thanks.

    If you dig into the etymology websites the story is kinda fascinating.

    English adopted it as a loan word (from the Old French?) enquere, and English scholars weren't a huge fan of that, adapting official use to conform more closely to latin, coming up with inquire. So laymen used enquire, scholars used inquire.

    So when people have the vague impression that 'enquiry' is the less-formal version of 'inquiry', they're drawing on how the usage varied over hundreds of years by the types of writing/speech that would use it - and they would be correct.

    Also another way of saying that language - in English at least - is whatever the hell we say it is, AND whatever the hell we use it as.

    Last edited 23/06/14 3:55 pm

    The Jury ordered an inquiry and the Chief Inspector enquired about the warrant!

    "Inquire appears more common in British English (and hence in written Australian English), while enquire is more common in American English"

    What's your source for this? Oxford Dictionaries says it's the other way around (see http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/enquire-or-inquire)

    When in doubt....use both

    "General inquiries
    For all other general enquiries or comments, please call the News Limited switchboard on (02) 9288 3000"
    ref: http://www.newscorpaustralia.com/contact/thankyou

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