Inquire vs Enquire

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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!

Quotation with Inquire and Enquire

… or if we are called to your home; Ziman said. Even in misdemeanor arrest situations, we are not going to inquire about immigration status. The department does pursue that avenue in conjunction with the federal … (www.chicagotribune.com)

… Mr. Sessions’s overlooked role as a key witness in the investigation into whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the inquiry itself. It also suggests that the obstruction investigation is broader than it is widely understood to be … (www.nytimes.com)

… to publicly pressure Mr. Mueller to stick to that timeline and trying to assuage the president by predicting the inquiry will end soon, a strategy that some of his other lawyers tried, with mixed results. … (www.nytimes.com)

Philisophical enquiry allows children the opportunity to discuss a topic or issue as a class, regardless of their background or ability to speak English. (www.theguardian.com)

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89 thoughts on “Inquire vs Enquire”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Craig comes closest

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

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

  4. 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 .

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

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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

    You do know this is DailyWritingTips.com, 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.”)

  11. “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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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?

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. “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…

  24. 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….

  25. 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?

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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!

  36. 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” ?

  37. 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).

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

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