Inquiry vs. Enquiry: What’s the Difference?

There are so many words in English that are either so similar to each other in spelling and pronunciation or their meanings are so close to each other that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. This is the case with inquiry vs. enquiry.

These words are especially confusing because they suffer from everything mentioned above: they are spelled similarly, pronounced similarly, and their meanings are quite similar (if not the same).

Today, I want to clear up any confusion or uncertainty that you might have in using these words in your writing, so you will be absolutely sure which word to use and when.

What is the Difference Between Inquiry and Enquiry?

Inquiry and enquiry are both nouns that can mean “a question, an investigation, or a close examination of a matter.” Both words are derived from the verbs “to inquire” and “to enquire,” respectively. As such, everything we talk about today applies equally to the verb forms as well as the noun forms. For example,

  • We received countless enquires about the recent tax changes. (Noun)
  • Will you please inquire about his whereabouts? (Verb)
  • The police are following an official line of inquiry. (Noun)
  • The child enquired about his father. (Verb)
  • This is a matter of scientific inquiry. (Noun)

You’re probably still wondering, “Okay, I still don’t know when to use which one.”

The short answer to that question is the difference between these words is entirely dialectical. That’s right. Ever since these words first came into English, they have both been used with approximately equal frequency and with no difference in meaning.

That said, there are some important usage considerations that you should keep in mind when using them.

In American English

InquireIn American English, inquiry and enquiry are used interchangeably, with “inquiry” being the preferred option.

  • “Her book—part memoir, part critical inquiry touching on desire, love, and family—is a superb exploration of the risk and the excitement of change.” – The New Yorker

Even though these two words are used interchangeably in American English, inquiry is used much more frequently and many style guides call for its use exclusively.

In British English

In British English, the words are also used interchangeably, but there is a slight distinction beginning to develop between them. British writers now generally restrict “enquiry” to refer to the general sense of “ask a question,” whereas inquire and inquiry are used in contexts of formal investigations. For example,

  • May I enquire as to the location of your restrooms?
  • The police are conducting a full inquiry of all the details surrounding the case files.
  • “Germany drops inquiry into claims NSA tapped Angela Merkel’s phone.” – The Guardian

Both of the above sentences are how you would expect the words to be used by British writers. But even in Great Britain, however, this is not a hard and fast rule, as the words are still used quite interchangeably.

Remember the Difference

If you are a British English speaker/writer and are looking for a way to keep track of which word to use and when, just remember that inquiry is preferred when referring to an investigation. Both words start with the letter “I.”

Summary

Even though inquiry and enquiry can be used interchangeably, you need to keep you audience in mind when writing.

In American English, both words can be used interchangeably, with inquiry being the more common, preferred word.

In British English, both words can also be used interchangeably, but it is preferred to used inquiry for formal investigations and enquiry for general questions.