Have you ever wondered which word is the ‘correct’ one to use? Should you use inquire or enquire? Is there a difference? Does it matter?

First of all, what does inquire /enquire mean? Both words mean to request information.

Example:

The student enquired of the teacher about the home-work assignment that was given in his absence.

The principal inquired about the fight involving two students.

Let’s now step back into the traditional meaning and usage of these words. Both words are derived from the same Latin word, inquerere, meaning to seek/ ask for.

In the 13th century, the use of enquire came into the English language from the Old French enquerre,thus the prefix ‘en’ – enquire. However, later on in the 15th century, it was thought by some that the spelling should be reverted to the prefix ‘in’, found in the original Latin, ‘inquerere’. In time, the two spellings were used interchangeably, with a more formal use of inquire, meaning ‘to seek information in a formal way or for situations of specific investigation.’ And an informal use of enquire meaning to ask in a general sense.

Example: The police inquired into the suspect’s past dealings.

Example: Ms. Smith enquired about the job vacancy at the store.

Now jump ahead to the modern meaning and usage of both words, the difference lies in the preferred use in American English and British English.

In British English, the traditional use of both words have been retained:

  • Inquire: to seek/ investigate in a formal way
  • Enquire: to ask in a general sense

In American English however, inquire is the preferred spelling and is used whether asking in a formal or an informal sense.

So now you know and it’s up to you which one you use… just keep in mind your reading audience when it comes to the British vs American spelling & usage and be consistent with it throughout your manuscript.