Write Right: Enquire versus Inquire

Write RightOne of my readers has asked about the difference between enquire and inquire as well as enquiry and inquiry. The answer: no difference exists. “Enquire” and “enquiry” are both variants of “inquire.” In general, “inquire” is the more commonly accepted and used word. It’s only the neighbors across the pond who take exception with the generality.

Even Brits don’t take exception all the time. The British rule of usage may state that “enquire” and “enquiry” should be used in informal settings, but British people don’t always follow the rule. They use “inquire” and “enquire” interchangeably. It’s understandable; both words mean to seek for information.

The variation in usage is found in the secondary definitions of inquire and inquiry. The two words relate to formal investigations. Webster’s Dictionary says that an inquiry is “a systematic investigation often of a matter of public interest.” “Enquire” and “enquiry” do not carry that connotation even though they are derivatives of “inquiry.” Thus, a British person might say that Scotland Yard had issued an “inquiry” regarding an event but not an “enquiry.”

Of course, it may be a little pointless to get caught up in the enquire versus inquire debate. The two words mean the same thing. Since “inquire” is the commonly accepted word, the best course of action is to use the more commonly accepted one.

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  1. I was just going to enquire about this very topic!

  2. I was just going to enquire whether a Scotland Yard inquiry is similar to an inquest?

    • barrettrossie I had to double check with the dictionary. An inquest usually is more judicial in nature, so it would be different from an inquiry. An inquest would involve solicitors and constables and probably inspectors. Where’s flemingsean? He should be proud of my use of British lingo.

      • flemingsean says:

        Erin F. barrettrossie flemingsean – ‘Ello guvnor, Big Ben, Parliament, English muffin… 🙂
        An inquest would (typically) be headed by a judge to investigate a death, or fatal accident, or something of that nature.
        Scotland Yard is where London’s police force are headquartered (the Metropolitan Police) so that would just refer to the police going about their business.

        • barrettrossie flemingsean Shall we have tea some time? 😉
          I knew you’d be able to enlighten us. Thanks for stopping by the place.

  3. That was awesome. I’ve never thought about those two words, but I wouldn’t have guessed they were identical. I would have assumed I just didn’t know the difference.

    • ExtremelyAvg I wouldn’t have, either, probably because they each have a nuance to them. Learning the truth was an adventure for me as well. It’s a good thing I like adventures. I like it when people ask me to explain words or a custom of the language.