An Inquiry: Which Is It? Enquire vs Inquire

An Inquiry: Which Is It? Enquire vs Inquire

Apr 29

There are some words that are genuinely interchangeable. Usually, they are different enough that we just list them under synonyms and barely connect them in our minds. But when it comes to ‘enquire’ versus ‘inquire’, there is more confusion. Especially if you use Firefox or an American English spell check, and so the former comes up as misspelled.

But it isn’t a typo. Both words are actually the same, and either can be correct. However, one will seem more natural than the other, depending on what version of English you learned.

For those who speak British English, enquire will be more common. This means to ask a question, no matter what kind of question it might be. Inquire is used, but usually for an official or formal inquiry, such as a criminal investigation.

In American English, you would normally use inquire for anything, including a formal or casual question or investigation. Enquire is still correct, but rarely applied.

Which Is Dominant?

We tend to assume that anything more common in British English will be dominant over the American spelling. This is for a rather simple reason: the language originated with the Anglo-Saxons, and so all English takes its cues from there.

But in this case, it is surprising to know that, technically, the American spelling takes precedence. According to dictionary sources, enquire is an alternative or secondary meaning, and inquire is the primary word. Both have the same meanings, whether it is casual or formal, though inquire is probably going to be used.

Which Is Better?

The short answer: neither. Both can be used at any time, and neither is technically incorrect. So when trying to decide what to use, you will be going purely with a matter of personal preference. Not many words are like that, making enquire and inquire unique.

But if you want a rule of thumb, you can go with the average usage: enquire for casual questions, inquire for formal. Some examples of these uses are:

  • She sent him an email to enquire after his address the day before the party.
  • Martin had enquired after her name, learning that was called Susan, but preferred Susie.
  • Her inquiry into the matter yielded few answers.
  • We will be launching an official inquiry into the events of June 14, 2009.

When you are writing for an actual publication, or even a class, you might want to take a moment to ask someone about the organizations preference. While most won’t care, there are a few that will have a word they would prefer in keeping with the overall tone. As for professors, they can something have a way they like to do things, and it will be your responsibility to find out how that it.

So, what have we learned? Basically, either enquire or inquire is right, but many people prefer the first for casual use, and the second for formal use. Most sources consider the latter to be the main spelling, but either is correct. In the end, preference is based on your own usage.