Inquire vs Enquire

By Ali Hale

One of our readers, Susabelle wrote to ask:

Can you take on explaining the difference between “inquire” and “enquire?”

These are two spellings of the same word, which means to seek information about something or to conduct a formal investigation (usually when followed by “into”). The corresponding noun is enquiry or inquiry.

Either spelling can be used, but many people prefer enquire and enquiry for the general sense of “ask”, and inquire and inquiry for a formal investigation:

  • I enquired his name
  • The first enquiry in my inbox today was about lost property.
  • We are going to inquire into the incident.
  • The lawyers asked when the inquiry will be completed.

In practice, enquire and enquiry are more common in British English, and inquire and inquiry are more common in US English, for both informal questions and formal investigations. However, the Guardian (a British newspaper) tells writers to “use inquiry and the Oxford English Dictionary seems to recognise inquire as the more dominant form, deeming enquiry:

”An alternative form of INQUIRE. The mod. Dicts. give inquire as the standard form, but enquire is still very frequently used, esp. in the sense ‘to ask a question’.”

So, it’s up to you which spelling you use, though if you’re writing for a particular publication, it’s worth asking about their house style. Sticking with inquire is probably best if you’re at all unsure, and whichever you pick, be consistent!

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87 Responses to “Inquire vs Enquire”

  • Sally

    I’m wondering when to use cumulate and accumulate. Thank you.

  • shahla

    could you tell me what’s different between the words of attempt,try,


  • Sandy

    whats the difference between the prefix in & un
    For example in the words indistinguishable & undistinguishable

  • Rajbir D

    Needed this info, I’m assuming enquire also falls under Canadian English as well.

  • Sol

    Undistinguishable: This word does NOT exist, as far as any scholar is concerned — it is viewed as a spelling mistake.

    I hope this answers your question.

  • Craig

    Undistinguishable is definitely a word and means not being able to identify as in:

    The body was so badly burned that it was undistinguishable as human.

    Indistinguishable is also a word with a very subtle but discrete meaning. It means exactly alike; incapable of being perceived as different as in:

    The twins were indistinguishable, one from another.

  • blortz

    Craig comes closest

    In this context, ‘in’ connotes imprecision.
    “I can’t tell one from another”

    ‘un’ = not
    Viz: “He was an undistinguished leader.”


    Why is nothing being done about the horrendous waste in the N H S and the Education Dept If you speak to the staff they will tell you about the blatant waste e,g Yorkhill Hospital is being moved and everything is being scrapped perfectly good and new equipement being dumped . The fat cats should be answerable for this gross waste The same goes for schools perfectly good equipment being destroyed and wasted. Its time this was investigated .

  • Sandra

    It is not just two spellings of the same word! Enquire is a simple question. Inquire is an investigation.

  • Susan

    Would you please tell me the difference between complete and compleat?
    Also dysfunctional and disfunctional? Are they interchangeable?

  • euan

    this answer is utter rubbish. Enquire and inquire have different meanings.

  • Ian Dubelaar

    I believe compleat is an archaic spelling of the word complete, used for the somewhat dubious cuteness it may generate. This falls into the same category as the verbal irritants shoppe and towne. Izaak Walton wrote a classic book on fishing in the 1600s called The Compleat Angler, this in the days before English spelling had sufficiently cooled and solidified. We now seem to be cursed with a spelling that continues turn up like like a fungal body itch.

  • Michael Corey

    I agree with Sandra and Euan; to ‘enquire’ is to ask a question, whereas to ‘inquire’ is to mount an official investigation or review. The distinction does seem to be being eroded though.

  • Elise

    Well, in the end, no one really cares whether you spell it “inquire” or “enquire”, “indistinguishable” or “undistinguishable”. Personally, to me, “inquire” looks better, as does “indistinguishable”, but in the end, the only people who care are spell freaks, perhaps english teachers, etc, etc. In the end, it’s not a big deal.

  • Shane

    Thanks for this I wasn’t too sure which one it was but I will know for the future.

  • mo

    “…in the end, the only people who care are spell freaks, perhaps english teachers, etc, etc.”

    You do know this is, yes? That’s like walking into a restaurant and telling the chef that nobody knows the difference between swordfish and salmon so they should just serve fish sticks and be done with it.

    In the US, ‘inquire’ covers both meanings, and ‘enquire’ is an alternate spelling; other sites suggest the same holds for Australia. It’s a bit of a culturally biased answer, in that regard. I suspect the folks insisting it’s just wrong are UK residents, to whom it is. 🙂

    (Additional evidence: “utter rubbish” in American would be “complete garbage.”)

  • Hashi

    “Spell freaks” and english teachers may care about spelling, but do you know who else may care?

    Your potential employers.

    If I see another resume riddled with grade school errors, I am liable to give up on humanity and go on some sort of rampage involving rubber chickens and whiffle bats.

  • venqax

    Mo: Agreed. In American English the 2 are the same. The more formal use of “inquiry” in BrE is not used in American. The term used for what the Br call an inquiry in the US is “investigation” . I deal with comparative law, and this is a distinction that comes up all the time. It is rubbish to utter otherwise, even in American. Udder rubbish is, I am guessing, a specialized dairy term less relevant to general use.

    Hashi: Careful with the whiffle bats. They can only fly using their sense of smell, so it is a VERY unpleasant and inpleasant sight, them flapping around.

  • Hashi

    venqax: your reply has caused an eruption of delight; a whiffle bat is not so much a nonsensical description of a bat-like creature, but closer to a baseball bat, however, one that is used with whiffle balls, i.e. a plastic ball with numerous holes in it.

    According to Google, it is spelled “wiffle”. My apologies.

  • venqax

    Hashi: I’m glad my whiffle-league attempt at humor hit home. I know wiffle ball well. 🙂

  • Hashi

    I intend to draw these wiffle-bats of which you speak; the visual seems entertaining or mildly amusing at best.

    Should I do so, I’ll let you know!

  • venqax

    Great! I love to see them, tho I don’t suppose they could see themselves.

  • venqax

    Regarding complete vs. compleat. It is true, as some have stated above, that the two were originally alternative spellings of the same word and the second has become archaic in that sense. However, in American English (don’t know about others) compleat has remained and taken on a distinctive meaning of “masterful” or “supremely accopmlished”. This comes from the Walton book title. So now you might see someone referred to as “the compleat diplomat” or a “compleat facilitator” in the sense of being a master of that area or superbly skillful. The term is not commonly used and even your American English spellchecker will most likely red-line it.

  • Fail

    This is only true in American English (See Also: Retardese)

  • ntefuni

    i need to know the difference between medicine and drug. thanks.

  • pedant

    How sad to read the demise of the english language on a site dedicated to it’s proper use…

    Inquire is a misspelling that has achieved common usage (particularly in the US where they consider it important to put their own stamp on words).

    From their origins.
    Enquiry is a compound word made up of the prefix “en-” (meaning in, on or into) and the word “quiry” (meaning ask or query). The “e” changing to an “i” because of some odd rule about the use of the prefix.

    The prefix “in-” means not, as in the words inconsiderate, incomplete, inexplicable, etc.

    Using the correct nomenclature of prefixes would then mean that inquiry means “not to ask” rather than “to ask into” which is the commonly held definition of the word. Sadly though because it is so often misspelt this word has achieved common acceptance even though incorrect.

    PS. I’m an Ozzie, not a whinging pom. but I still think you should at least know the language you speak and write to be able to use it correctly. Next you’ll be telling me that “gay” doesn’t mean care-free, bright and cheerful.

  • Freelance Article Writer

    So true Pedant…so true. I came here after arguing one of my writers about “enquire” and “inquire”…and found this amazing site here…at least we can read minds of other like minded people.

    Great work…great forum.

  • jermaineac

    Hey pedant, how would an “Ozzie” say/type the following periodic, metallic element – Al(13)?

  • burningeko

    jermaineac, phonetically we would say it something close to Al-a-min-e-um.
    americans tend to say it as aloom-min-num.
    my mum’s American, I’m Aussie through and through.

    and yes, I know my handle will annoy some people.

  • Arlo Barlow

    Um…I was brought up to understand that to ‘enquire’ is what you do of other people. e.g. I enquired of him/her, I am making enquiries.

    Inquire is what someone would do if they were questioning me e.g the woman inquired of me whether I was attending the event.

    I was taught in England though, so what the hell do I know?

  • Blessing

    Pls would u tell me the difference between compliment and complement. Thanks

  • Jessica Greenman

    Blessing: Compliment is when you offer someone (or something) praise and complement is when something goes attractively or satisfyingly with something else, viz.:

    1. I thought her pink lampshades worthy of compliment but her use of dead animals to complement them less happy as an interior design feature.


    2. I complimented her on her delicious fois gras and also thought her home-made bread the perfect complement.


    Pedant: it’s ‘its’ (possessive pronoun) not ‘it’s’ (verb) in your opening line, viz.:

    ‘How sad to read the demise of the english language on a site dedicated to it’s proper use…’

    You need to remove that apostrophe, stop getting things wrong (if you’re a pedant), stop being sarcastic (just anyway) and stop using ellipses when they are not needed, and just aim to make you sound more reflective than you are. If you’d reflected, and if you dwelt properly on the mysteries of things, or even the mysteries of your own things, you would know about the ‘proper use’ of ‘it’s’.

    However, a lot of people do get this one wrong, and I will explain how to avoid it. It is a matter of ownership (what I have) versus existence (what I am).

    ‘It is sunny’ (existence) shortens to ‘it’s sunny’ because it (the day) is described by its property, that of being sunny, golden, overcast, snowing etc. This is the function of the verb ‘to be’.


    ‘many defied its right to wear trousers’

    where ‘right’ is just one thing about ‘it’, not its overweening property, from which ‘it’ and its property are indistinguishable (ha); where the one IS the other (the day is sunny) and defined in and by those terms. You have to imagine ‘it’ here being a tortoise, or a dragon, or something that isn’t a person, a nuclear bomb maybe, or a packet of flour.

    ‘It is a dragon’, would contract to ‘it’s a dragon’ (because ‘it is’ is a verb) but ‘its right to wear trousers’ or indeed ‘its proper use’ isn’t a contraction at all, it’s a grammatical feature describing something about ‘it’ (‘right’ or ‘use’ in those two cases).

    Just generally, and this is not a law: ‘enquire’, I feel, has slightly more of personal aspect to it than ‘inquire’, and is very slightly more inviting and less formal; it is also a tiny bit more archaic, and the same goes for ‘enquiry’ and ‘inquiry.’ I think if one looks it up in Literature there will be court cases and the like which use the word ‘enquiry’ rather than ‘inquiry,’ so the word has mutated over time. I rather like old-fashioned words and am particularly upset that we all spell ‘lettuce’ ‘lettuce’ instead of ‘lettice’ but no one will allow me to use the old spelling. They also won’t allow me to use the word ‘derogate’ in the way I want to either, but that meaning went out in 1647.

  • Jeff

    In language common usage comes to define what is correct.

    A sad statement, but one proven over and over.

    If “inquire” is not already correct it will be soon enough.

    It is not going away.

  • Chuck Barnard

    “Sticking with inquire is probably best if you’re at all unsure, and whichever you pick, be consistent!”

    …at least consistent within a particular character’s speech–it’s one of those ways to differentiate pieces of dialogue…

  • Chuck Barnard

    Jeff “In language common usage comes to define what is correct.
    A sad statement, but one proven over and over.”

    Actually, which is true is language dependent.

    The French have had a committee to define the language as it is to be used (probably still do.)

    When the OED was first proposed, it was a conscious decision by the editors to make the dictionary reflect common usage rather than dictate what each word meant.

    Since the kinds of thoughts you can have are limited by the words you have to describe things, a dictated language implies a static culture and a reflected language permits much more and more rapid change.

    Thus the furor in France over terms used in American fast food which slipped into usage as such places began to appear on the Continent.

    English is full of adopted, adapted, stolen, borrowed, redefined, foreign words as well as words created by the speakers.

    Language Nazis who insist that a word can only be used for certain meanings or purposes are fighting an uphill battle in English.

    Most languages will use an existing word which is descriptive of an existing object/process from somewhere else as part of a new word.

    This has the effect of limiting word-length to an extent.

    Germanic languages tend to collapse a descriptive phrase into a single word–which can be quite unwieldy.

    Chinese has tended to grow in the same way by accretion–with characters from a phrase being integrated over time into individual characters with the same meaning.

    Often, immigrant’s speech will use the correct or nearly correct English words but phrase them using their 1st language grammatical structure.

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin historically had a huge German descended culture, and Germanic sentence structure (trailing verb) is still not uncommon.

    English does a lot of shortening of terms from descriptive sentences to combined syllables from the sentence into an often brand-new world.

    This makes the words easier to use, at the risk of losing the meaning…but anyone who has read technical German will know how tedious sentences as words can be….

  • Judi Hopper

    I have looked about for a definitive ruling on the correct form for the proper singular, possessive of “business.” My go-to grammar guru; normally my know-all source could not give me a satisfactory answer. Could you please help?

  • venqax

    Judi Hopper: I’m not sure I understand. Do you mean business’s? As in, “I have to do my business’s taxes”? The 3-S combo looks a bit odd, but is perfectly correct. I deal with it when talking about Congress’s issues all the time. But it is also acceptable, AFAIK, to just write business’ without the extra S. I think that is more a matter of style than of any real rule.

  • Mark Shuttleworth

    I really wouldn’t give much credibility to the Guardian – it’s nothing but a left wing rag. It’s Pravda with tits and bums.

  • Albert Rogers

    Whereas I like the Guardian, I’d say it’s middle of where the road SHOULD be.
    On the other hand, I’m old enough to suspect that enquire is not the same as inquire, and that dictionaries no longer have the confidence to identify GOOD English.
    American “business” English is part of the cause of this decay.

  • Albert Rogers

    venqax: your are correct in saying that it is, of old, acceptable to spell the possessive of “business” and business’. So I was taught, in the UK, in school perhaps 60 years ago.
    But I was also taught that the terminal apostrophe was to be pronounced as if the spelling had been business’s!
    I was too young then to voice publicly my opinion that the rule was utterly stupid, but I note now in America that the possessive of my surname, if spelt Rogers’ is pronounced as if it were Roger’s. So clearly it is stupid not to spell it Rogers’s in writing.

  • ramerus

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog! It’s good to see that I’m not crazy to be so pedantic about how English is written and spoken. I came here because I figured that one of either enquire or inquire was incorrect to use, and I wanted to be sure.

    By the way, I’m from South Africa, and one thing that irks me tremendously about written English here is the use of apostrophes in to denote plural. It’s become accepted even in business documents! It makes my skin crawl. So you’ll see something like “Please put the pea’s and tomato’s in the fridge.” And nobody seems to notice how incorrect that is!

  • Brian Clements

    Like you, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the blog. However, I would like to assure you that there are still some of us out here who hate to see the apostrophe used to denote the plural, even though I suspect that we are fast fading into history. The usage was formerly known as the greengrocer’s apostrophe but now it’s everywhere. Interesting that your entry used “fruit and veg” as an example.

  • venqax

    Albert Rogers: I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. My point was that in forming possessives of words ending in ss, it is, as far as I know, acceptable to use an ‘ alone or an ‘s as you would with other words. By acceptable, I meand that I don’t know of any definitive rule, 60 years past or other, that dictates one or the other as correct. I know that publication vary in regard to their policies.

    As for pronunciation, I think you would be correct that regardless of spelling, Rogers’ or Rogers’s shoule be pronounced ROJ-ERZ-EZ.

    Personally, I use the spelling ‘S in all cases– “the Congress’s budget”– for the simple sake of consistency itself. The common counter that three Ss “looks ugly” doesn’t seem relevant in the least. Appearences on a page should never influence grammar or spelling, chiseling newspaper publishers be damned.

  • jbee650

    This from the OED on the subject:

    Etymology: Middle English enquer-e(n , < Old French enquer-re (enquer-ant ), modern French enquér-ir = Provençal enquerer , enquerre , Italian †inquierere , †inchierere , inchiedere < late popular Latin type *inquērĕre for inquærĕre (analytical for classical Latin inquīrĕre ), < in- (in- prefix2) + quærĕre to ask. In English the stem-vowel was conformed to the classical Latin in 15th cent.; Scots retained the French form. The prefix began also to be conformed to Latin in 14–15th cent., but the half-latinized enquire still subsists beside inquire : compare endoss , endorse , indorse .

    What I get from this is that it all depends on whether you want to be identified as French/Scottish, or Latin/English. Use either one; at the end of the day, we all know what you mean.

  • Dave

    Hashi: you are pretentious and write in a bombastic manner that does nothing to enhance the way your comments read. Why do it? It is not impressive or poetic. I dread to think what job you have because if I had to do business with you I would tell you to cut the crap or get out.

  • Michael

    We’re annoyed by basic spelling errors and words used out of context but it’s okay to say “hey, enough people are using the word ‘inquiry’ out of context now that it now means the same thing as enquiry.” Cool. I guess that explains how “American English” (as opposed to “English English”) has dropped the ‘u’ in colour, favour, armour etc. How long until “nite” and “gorgus” are acceptable spellings of the words “night” and “gorgeous” ? Hey, maybe its time to include numerical characters in spelling now too. Let me know, I’d like to name my son N8. N8 for 2056! L8r dudes….

    P.S Doesn’t it sh*t you when people say L8ter, adding the ‘te’? Thats poor numerical english there, that is. That’ll probably be acceptable a few years after l8r is acceptable though, hang in there, Bogans. The world will be yours soon enough!

  • venqax

    jbee650: But the words’ history really isn’t relevant here. Long-established and current usage are. In American English, it is LONG ESTABLISHED, not just a recent fad, that inquiry/enquiry are not distinct. The usual spelling is I, the E spelling is a variant. In British English, OTOH, the 2 have developed and maintain distinct meanings. Probably mainly due to the British use of inquiry as a term for a law enforcement process. What in American law is called an *investigation*. The 2 languages have been evolving differently for a long time now, as have other national standard-Englishes in other countries.

    Michael: Same as above. The U-less spellings and the American context of I vs E nquiry are not new. Different spellings and usages have evolved in the US, just as they did in the UK and in other places.
    People are only using inquiry in or out of context depending on what the context IS. As for spelling, there are rules. Most people just don’t know them. An argument could be made for nite. But gorgus doesn’t work because Gs before Us (and Os) are hard. Like in GUN. That’s why the E is stuck in there to begin with. Now *gorjus* mite make sense. ;). But we are talking about CHANGING the rules. Not just getting them wrong.
    We’re annoyed by basic spelling errors and words used out of context but it’s okay to say “hey, enough people are using the word ‘inquiry’ out of context now that it now means the same thing as enquiry.” Cool. I guess that explains how “American English” (as opposed to “English English”) has dropped the ‘u’ in colour, favour, armour etc. How long until “nite” and “gorgus” are acceptable spellings of the words “night” and “gorgeous” ?

  • mistermaumau

    Pedant, exactly. Sadly, the world is inundated (no, that doesn’t mean something is dated) with people who have no need or desire to differentiate (bet that will change into differenciate) between two completely different words such as enquiry and inquiry. This to the delight of politicians, lawmakers and lawyers, biased media reporters and contract writers who can then play on the “misunderstandings” this leads to in the real world.

    Given the chance, most people, specifically Americans, would prefer to reduce language to a manageable batch of 200 words describing everything of importance to their life, with the F-word being ideally suited for replacing over 30% of all words GB/US words without even leading to serious discussions over spelling.

    It seems old George got it slightly wrong and underestimated the Proles for it is from below that Newspeak is borning (there, my contribution to their language).

  • venqax

    Mistermaumau:Sadly, the world is inundated (no, that doesn’t mean something is dated) with people who have no need or desire to differentiate (bet that will change into differenciate) between two completely different words such as enquiry and inquiry.

    Problem is, they aren’t really 2 different words. Before you blame the omnipotent Americans, check your own authorities: E.g. Quinion at World Wide Words:

    However, in RECENT times British people have developed a difference of meaning between the two forms. Enquire tends to be used for general senses of “ask”…, while inquire implies a formal investigation (as in the legal forum called a public inquiry). But this ISN’T ABSOLUTE by any means, and British English is being influenced by American English, in which inquire and inquiry HAVE LONG BEEN the standard forms

    Emphasis mine. The point being, there is no historical argument for the “corruption” of meaning of the words, or the precedent of the I vs. the E spellings. You don’t just get to make things up, and the fact that a usage is British doesn’t lend it any automatic venerability, propriety, or even age. It is the British, e.g. who have mushed and “reduced” the distinction between got and gotten. It is the British who’ve invented an atrocity like “jewellery”, in place of the much older and perfectly adequate “jewelry”—thankfully maintained in America. This without even raising the issue of average Britishers of the working type, as opposed to Oxbridge products, whose dialects, argots and pidgins are a hell’s-parade far more varied and frightening than anything that exists on the west side of the Atlantic.

  • Bassam Guy

    I agree with the British distinctions between inquiry and enquiry. Formal vs informal.

    Additionally though, inquiries are never anticipated. After all, “noone expects the Spanish Inquisition” 🙂

    A Spanish Enquisition would have been quite silly, sillier than Monty Python.

  • venqax

    A good example of the relevant issue. Inquiry and enquiry do NOT have a distinction in American English. They evidently do in British. There is nothing to “agree” with. It’s not a matter of opinion any more than “agreeing” with truck or lorry, or “agreeing” with color vs. colour would be. And, guess it needs saying, inquisition is a different word. So, it’s the comparison that is sillier than Python.

  • grianagh

    My pet peave, and I correct every character in a program (and have my husband and son doing the same) and news anchor when it is said:
    He hung himself, she was hung, etc…

    From my 5th grade teacher:
    Pictures are hung, people are HANGED!

    Remember it!

  • venqax

    grianagh: Interesting point. I also use hanged in that unique context and correct those who don’t (when editing). HOWEVER, I have encounterd some good sources who maintain that that distinction is something of a myth, and that it is perfectly acceptable to say, “The sheriff hung the prisoner yesterday.” Maybe, not preferable, and I think the distinction is worth preserving. Just not sure it’s technically wrong.

  • Siddharth

    I am a non-native English speaker. During my frequent email interactions with British associates, I realised that their English is far worse than mine. Apostrophes are used where they are unnecessary and commas are missing where they’re needed!

    I have noticed this (incorrect English) in some of the above comments as well (and these seem to be from Britons).

    Perhaps I have interacted with far too few Britons to generalise my observation.
    No offence to anybody!

  • venqax

    Siddharth: I think it is relatively common for the language of a learned-speaker to be more technically correct than that of a native speaker. I encounter it quite a bit, especially in writing. I would not say that the British are any worse with the language than others are, BUT I would also not agree that they are any better. There does seem to be a mistaken underlying assumption “amongst” some of the UK posters here that British English occupies a position of some kind of preeminence among the many national standard-Englishes that now exist. I’m not sure where this misconception comes from. The politics of the Commonwealth? A last vestige of– God forbid– nationalism in British education? A compensatory mechanism for all that’s been lost? It’s especially odd in regard to American English given that modern British has changed as much as American has in the last 300 years and in many ways American has preserved what was “British” English then more than “modern” British has. And the stereotype is that Americans are arrogant. Go figure.

  • Martin

    English is indeed a crazy language. How else would you be able to have the same word mean 2 completely different things. For example sanction.

    To impose a sanction on; penalize, especially by way of discipline.
    authoritative permission or approval, as for an action.

  • venqax

    I seriously doubt that English is the only language with contranyms.

  • Go Scuba Dive

    Thanks for the explanation between inquire and enquire. This is very helpful as I’m writing my cover letter and needed a bit of a refresher.

  • venqax

    Go Scuba Dive: Are you American? If so, you might want to hold off an that letter for a moment.

  • Joshua Williams

    venqax – I understand that it is important to take into account the cultural context of a word’s usage, but isn’t it equally valid to take inot account the word’s historical development in terms of pre-fix development. I feel that the strongest argument in this entire comments section was made by jbee650. From that explanation, it would seem that even from a historical perspective both pre-fixes are interchangeable and both usages are correct as stated above by the original author.

  • venqax

    Joshua Williams: Yes, it is. As I have said to mrmaumau and others above. Historically there was no distinction between the two AND in American English today the two are indistinguishable. It is, in fact, the British English “distinction” that is relatively new and ahistorical. So my caution was, basically, that if you are American you don’t have to worry about this. So don’t overthink it or use something that seems awkward to you. There are plenty of times when there are rules to be followed without sweating the few where there aren’t.

  • Sheldon

    What a wonderful exchange of thoughts. I have always used enquire as a verb and inquiry as a noun. As an English teacher and grammar- nazi i find it quite lovely to know that people do care about what is “correct” but of course, as stated, language changes and evolves. Spellings are likely to change – but chucking apostrophes about the place willy nilly is something i can’t fathom. My greatest cringe is people who “could of…. should of…. would of… ” it’s HAVE!!!!

  • Englansi

    Great thread and almost free of the usual vituperation over US/UK mangling of the language. As a pom(lapsed) I always thought the E and I debate a bit superfluous (should that be sperflos in American?) as the distinction seemed clear enough to me. Now I know otherwise, thanks. @ Sheldon, are you sure it’s ‘of’ they’re saying? The schwa renders the two in(un?)distinguishable to my ear. Or perhaps you are talking about the written mistake; in which case – nail ’em up I say! Nail a bit of sense into em!
    I would really like the language simplified, but American deviation from standard spelling is just causing international confusion( well, a bit of grit makes the pearl, come on septics; fight back). Those Dutch printing buggers who added all the gh’s and ou’s 400 odd years ago should certainly be dug up and tried for crimes against spelling, but just twiddling with the problem isn’t helping. Not sure how it could be achieved, even Winnie Churchill tried and failed and he was an Anlgo-American sautpil. If you’re going to drop the u, then the gh should go too. Innit.
    Does anyone know how the rules for es endings developed? They’re fairly clear for ed endings, T, D = /id/ voicless = /t/ etc, but I’m stumped for es. I know the rules, I just wondered how they developed historically, I have a suspicion it will help explain some grammar points. Ta.

  • venqax

    Once again, we will reiterate (is that threeiterate?). American English does not “deviate” from any standard. American IS a standard, so that statement is nonsensical on its face. And furthermore, since 2/3 of the world’s native English speakers ARE American, then it woud by definition BE THE NORM if all were taken together. This British Napoleon complex, of al lthings is really unseemly.

  • Englansi

    Bit tochy aren’t we ventqox? It was a tonge in cheek poke. If something starts ot in a particlar way and a later body alters it, however hge they be in nmbers, then it’s a deviation from the norm. Bt it’s a moot point and I nderstand how any challenge to a the biggest boy in the playgrond always ends in the little gy apologising. So I apologise, sorry apologize for irritating yo. If the norm is now to apply circlar logic, then I concede. Is the norm also to shot the important words? Then maybe I shold also say AT FACE VALE and that ALL is spelt with two l’s. Frthermore I’m a bit pzlled why yo shold define it as a Napoleon complex. I stdied history and that period was one of my favorites, bt I can’t see the connection. I SRE yo’ll happily get irritated to the point of crshing what little of my self esteem remains. I tried writing in American jst to show there are no hard feelings. (Replace the voiceless consonants /t/ with the voiced consonant /d/, shold be ok). Pip pip.

  • venqax

    Not really personally directed at you Englansi. Simply frustration over the recurring mistake that somehow, because English began in England, the English spoken there has some special status for determining what is proper. It doesn’t, for a couple of reasons, one of which not its relative number of speakers. One of which IS the fact that modern British has changed just as much as modern American or any other national standard has in the past 300 years. In many ways it is American, not British, that has preserved the older, closer-to-original form, e.g., gotten, the American short A sound, the lack of any distinction between in- and en-quiry, etc.

    As to numbers and norms:
    If something starts ot in a particlar way and a later body alters it, however hge they be in nmbers, then it’s a deviation from the norm.

    No, that’s not what a norm is. Leaving aside the above examples where it is the UK, not the US that is the later altering body, a norm, by definition, is a frequency or a standard of measurement, and has nothing to do with chronology. If 2 out of 3 in a population exhibit some characteristic, then they are pretty much by definition determining the norm. It’s that danged ol’ Bell Curve. However, I’m not arguing that non-US English is a deviation from any norm, either. It, like others, is its own national standard with its own rules and conventions.

    A Napoleon complex in common slang/jargon, refers to someone trying to make up for being short or small with excessive bluster or pride or aggressiveness. Maybe the term is an Americanism. If I’m the biggest in the playground, shouldn’t I be getting something? Like extra lunch money, a reserved leaning spot on the wall, or something?

  • Englansi

    Well, I think you get to win most of the argument. Fair play. As a fabulously wealthy American you wouldn’t be interested in my rusty shilling, so that will have to suffice. It’s curious don’t you think that perception is such a weakness in our pattern seeking minds that we come to believe in it. I don’t think English people feel this way (Napoleon complex) at all, none that I converse with anyway. The overriding feeling is self deprecation. That’s what most of our comedians make their living from. I say our, I left years ago and have no plans to return. I also think the spelling and possibly grammar should be changed. It’s ridiculous. But until it does, I take personal pride in getting my feeble utterances as close to correct as I can. These kinds of discussions are a big help toward that. In my arrogant ignorance I was totally convinced of the I verses E argument. This page changed that.

  • David A

    Struth you guys would think that only ‘yanks’ and ‘poms’ speak English. We all know that the correct and most pure form of English is the Australian language!! I mean we must be right because we are the newest therefore we ditched all the udder rubbish on the way?

  • Carole Grimley

    “During my frequent email interactions with British associates, I realised that their English is far worse than mine.”

    Prepositional phrases do not requre a comma to separate them from the rest of the sentence.

    I imagine udder rubbish would consist of bits of mud and pieces of grass and whatever else a cow could pick up in a field.

  • venqax

    Udder rubbish. Is that a dairy farming term? Bovine hygiene-related I’m guessing? Sounds awful.

  • Dom

    A while ago I was watching a program on TV (ABC – Australian Broadcasting Commission) where a language researcher was discussing different spelling and language usage between US, UK and Aus. She mentioned that a lot of US spelling and grammatical ideosyncrasies are actually a more archaic form of English and remain more true to the original exported from the UK to US on colonisation. This gist being that the US has kept a purer form of the language rather than the UK which evolved/degraded/changed (you pick) over the intervening centuries. From this I think it is probably more correct to view language as an extension of a culture (usually by nation) rather than right or wrong and to stop whining about who has got it wrong.

  • johnnysixpence

    Some of the pompous, condescending rants above are rendered totally ineffectual when the writer has mix up it’s and its. Forget the long winded explanations –

    it’s is short for it is
    its is used everywhere else

    If in doubt use its. You won’t look like a moron that way.


  • venqax

    — when the writer mixex up it’s and its–
    — long-winded explanations–

    Just trying to compensate for the lack of an edit function here which magnifies typos. Don’t want anyone to look like a moron because those are inevitable on on-the-flie posting bordes like this.*

    *Studies show that relatively few people think the word “the” is spelled HTE. Nonetheless they spell like that A LOT. Mysteries of the mind….

  • pebekiwi

    Wow! I searched to see whether I should be making an ‘Inquiry’ or an ‘Enquiry’ and ended up reading this fascinating debate about the English languages.

    And what a debate! Such a learned bunch of teachers, authors, journalists and other language experts arguing about trivia. English is a rather silly archaic ad hoc collection of rules and exceptions that generally impair communication almost as much as they facilitate it. (So why was I on this site? Yes, you guessed – I was applying for a job and one descends to performing all sorts of demeaning tasks to impress one’s prospective employer.)

    What is Standard English? According to this thread the standard seems to be defined by the OLDness or the COMMONness of a usage or by the BIGness of the user. Such nonsense is what has gotten us into our current shambles. A standard can be anything that you want it to be. The best standards are well thought out, logical and useful. South Korea has an unusally high level of literacy influenced at least in part by their adoption of an alphabet that is logical and phonetic which also makes it simple and easy to learn. Bingo!

    Here’s an idea… why not start by re-designing English to make it a useful aid to communication? A phonetic alphapbet, simple spelling and drop all those exceptions. ISO standard English. EZ!

  • venqax

    Obviously, as the discussion of “Incorrect Pronunciations To Avoid” makes clear, spelling English “phonetically” wouldn’t be so easy. Those in the know, e.g., would say *February* IS spelled phonetcally, whereas *often* is not. Should be *offen*. Or could say *archipelego* is spelled phonetically, because CHs in words that come from Greek are pronounced with a K sound. That IS a rule in English, not the breaking of one. Some problems SEEM easy to solve when you only have a superficial knowledge of the subject.

    “So what’s the Black Box made out of? They should just make the whole plane out of that! Morons!”

  • Dom

    Lets face it English is an eclectic language and is becoming increasingly so. It draws from other launguages, including technical ones, through common usage until certain terms or words become generally accepted. When terms, words or rules become difficult to use or begin to have reduced relevance they are eventually dropped from the language. A little like evolution, unless you are a creationist.

  • Zoom

    @Sandra – You are absolutely correct. Enquiry is to ask. Inquiry is to investigate. Two different words for a reason.

  • venqax

    @Sandra and Zoom: Unless you are American. In SAE there is no distinction between enquiry and inquiry. Inquiry is the normal form for any use. Enquiry is not wrong, but is seen as somewhat archaic in SAE. In the USA, a legal investigation is called that– an investigation. Inquiry is not used in that sense in SAE. There are other similar situations between British and SAE, e.g. Br distinguishes practice and practise, whereas SAE uses practice for all purposes. Different standards apply in different places (this has been said so many times it needs its own key on the keyboard).

    OTOH, if you want to make that distinctions personally, in your own writing, then by all means feel free. Similarly some use healthful to mean conducive to health and reserve healthy to mean the condition of being in good health. A good distinction probably, altho there is no authority for it, meaning that healthy has been used to mean both for a very, very long time and the 2 words have never been formally distinguished.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Jessica Greenman. Huh? “Complement” is a technical word in mathematics, logic, and engineering.
    If “A” is a set within a universal set U, then the complement of A is everything in U that is not in A. This is very simple showing by using a Venn diagram, but diagrams are not available here — so let me give a couple of examples:

    1. Let U = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 10} and let A = {5, 6, 7, 8}.
    Then the complement of A is {1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10}.

    2. Let U = {the real numbers between zero and two}.
    Let A = {the rational numbers between zero and two}
    Then the complement of A = {the irrational numbers between zero and two}.

    It can also be shown that the complement of A is a much larger set of numbers than is the set A, but that is a different subject in mathematics.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Joshua Williams on April 20, 2012
    “venqax – I understand that it is important to take into account the cultural context of a word’s usage, but isn’t it equally valid to take into account the word’s historical development in terms of pre-fix development.”

    The word “prefix” is NOT hyphenated, and it never has been. In fact, the prefix “pre” is never hyphenated onto any common noun or common adjective. It is always directly attached to such words. (The same goes for anti, bi, contra, counter, di, giga, hemi, kilo, in, mega, mini, micro, semi, sub, super, tri, ultra, un, and many other prefixes.}

    See such words as preamble, prebiotic, precast, predestination, preempt, preflight, prehistoric, preindustrial, preliterate, premature, preposition, prestressed, preternatural, preverbal, and prewar.

    antimissile missile, bisexual, counterclockwise, hemisphere, inactive, megahertz, miniskirt, microscope, semicircle, submarine, superpower, tricycle, ultrahigh frequency, ultradense, unconscious, unknown.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Sandy on January 19, 2009
    What’s the difference between the prefixes “in” and “un”.

    The answer is simple: there isn’t any difference in their meanings. The are both prefixes of negation, but their sources are difference:

    “Un” came from German, or earlier from Anglo-Saxon-Jute, into English, and maybe from Danish, too. Modern German has tens of thousands of words that begin with “un”.

    “In” came from Latin, or else via the Old French of the Normans, into English. Of course, Old French came from the Latin of Julius Caesar and during the following several centuries of Roman rule in Gaul. “Im” is a variation of “in”.

    These are the fundamental facts. “Un” is usually used with words with Germanic roots, and “in” is usually used with words with Latinate roots. However, I don’t doubt that “un” is sometimes used with words that have Latin or Greek roots. How about “unchaotic”?

    The prefix “non” is also used in German, but German does have some words that were borrowed from Latin, especially from the period of the early Renaissance (like 1400 – 1700), when Latin was the international language of scholars all over Europe. Even men like Galileo, Pascal, Descartes, and Isaac Newton wrote letters, papers, and books in Latin.

    Descartes: “Cogito ergo sum” – I think, therefore I exist. – published in Latin in 1644, though he had earlier published it in French (1637): “Je pense donc je suis”

    Here is one of my favorite pairs of words from Modern German:
    “moeglich” means “possible” and
    “unmoeglish” means “impossible”.
    This implies to me that “possible” has French / Latin roots.

  • theWord

    For the record: “undistinguishable” is not a word translated literally in any language.

  • Amanda

    I am an American, more specifically a Texan, and I will be the first to admit that our American English is being watered down. My mother, also a native-born Texan, taught me to speak “proper” English. In other words, British English 🙂

    All of this to say, I have always received red question marks on my English papers for using “enquire” about asking a simple question, and get looked at strangely when I actually pronounce the two words differently. It’s very difficult being a Texas Brit wanna-be!

  • Kevin

    I love Betty McGlynn, because she has no idea what is going on.

  • Chuba

    To “inquire” means to carry out an investigation into something. To “Enquire” means to ask for direction or to get a usually nominal meaning of things or events. Inquiry as such has a deeper meaning

  • venqax

    @Amanda: Shame on your mother for making you think that “British” English– whatever it is– is proper for an American. It is not. For an American to act like a Brit is simply an affectation whose effect ranges from eccentric to off-putting. And shame on your assumedly American English teachers for questioning your use of enquire. It is perfectly acceptable, if a bit off-center, in American English. As has been said here, repeatedly, the 2 forms are interchangeable in Standard American English. That means they both mean the same thing, and either can be used in any circumstance (though inquire is more common in SAE.) The 2 are also pronounced the same in either British or American, so don’t fool yourself into thinking that making a distinction there somehow brightens your speech. It, too, is simply affected. That probably is not what you are going for.

  • Geoff. Smith,

    The Great Vowel Change.

    I read the whole blog top to bottom and no one made mention of it; now I wonder if I dreamed it all. Vi was her name but pronounced Vee.

    Only once did I listen to an A.B.C. subject termed The Great Vowel Change.

    Can anyone enlighten me?


    Geoff. Smith.

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