Inquiry or Enquiry?

I mentioned a week or so ago that one of my aims for 2012 was to avoid blithely using terms and words that I assumed were right and actually undertake a bit of research to check I was using them correctly.

Last time I looked at the correct usages of ‘while’ and ‘whilst’ and this time I thought I’d double check I was using ‘inquiry’ and ‘enquiry’ in the right places.? Are they interchangeable?? Or do they mean different things?

Inquiry or enquiry?

As with many of these things, the simple answer is ‘either’.? For example, the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary presents the two spellings as interchangeable variants in the general sense.

However, there is a subtle difference between the two terms.

In the UK, ‘enquiry’ is generally a term that is used to refer to ‘the act of questioning’, such as:

  • He enquired about her health
  • I made an enquiry about the price of a ticket

‘Inquiry’, however, is more commonly used when referring to a formal investigation, such as:

  • There will be a public inquiry into the riots
  • The police are making inquiries about the incident

A simple way to remember which to use is to consider that an ‘inquest’ (an official investigation) is related to ‘inquiry’.

Just to confuse you (of course): if you are writing in American or Australian English, inquiry is normally the correct word, irrespective of the circumstances.

Have you any examples of when ‘inquiry’ or ‘enquiry’ might be correct, or suggestions for seemingly interchangeable terms that I can consider in this feature?? Let me know in the comments below.

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