One of the unintended consequences of the fiercely independent American ideology is that sometimes Americans and their British compatriots decide to spell things differently. These divergent spellings may not be as common as they once were, but they still pepper the English language, and they still confuse beginning writers and second language learners.
Check and cheque are examples of differences in spelling between British and American English. The older spelling, check, has been and continues to be used with greater frequency in all contexts (see graph below)
Sometime in the early 19th century, however, British English writers started using cheque in financial contexts.
What is the Difference Between Check and Cheque?
In this article, I’ll compare check vs. cheque. I’ll use each in a sentence. Then, I’ll give you a helpful memory trick to remember which word to use.
When to Use Check
What does check mean? Check, which is actually the older of the two spellings, is standard in American English.
As a noun, it can refer to a payment method that remains a popular alternative to cash, a safeguard or limit against the abuse of power, or less commonly, a situation in a game of chess in which one player’s king is in immediate danger of being taken. Here are some examples:
- If a person wanted to buy an expensive item, but didn’t want to carry a large amount of cash, she might ask “Can I write you a check?”
- The branches of the United States government have many checks and balances to protect against the abuse of authority.
- By moving her bishop to a new square, Kadiatu put Marco’s king in check.
As a verb, check can mean to verify or to slow or halt progress, as in the following examples:
- One roommate might say to another, “will you check your room for dirty dishes?”
- It is always a good idea to check your work before submitting a test.
- The results of the vote checked the slow but steady rise of the S&P 500.
If you are a writer in the United States, you will use check in all circumstances.
When to Use Cheque
What does cheque mean? Cheque is much less common than check in American English, so much so that it is generally considered a spelling error. It is only used in the above financial context, and then only rarely.
Cheque is the standard spelling in British English, where it has been used since the earlier 19th century—but only for check in the financial sense.
- A plumber who won £14million on the lottery was today back at work fixing toilets – just two days after getting his whopping cheque. –The Herald
- Ireland’s newest millionaires stayed close to their roots upon arriving today at the National Lottery headquarters to collect their almost €24 million jackpot cheque – in a Dublin Bus. –The Irish Times
For phrases like fact check, check in, in check, check against, etc., the spelling check is used even in British English.
If you are a writer in the U.K. or Australia, you will use cheque for financial contexts and check for most other contexts.
Phrases That Use Check
Here are a few popular phrases that use the spelling check in both American and British English.
Check In – to examine something to determine its accuracy; verify or establish to one’s satisfaction; arrive and register at a hotel or airport.
- I wanted to check in before I left to make sure everything is all right.
- Did you check in with the airline yet?
Checkup – a medical examination.
- I don’t feel very well. I need to go to the doctor for a checkup.
In Check – under control; monitor.
- He is a good CEO. He keeps everything in check and running smoothly.
Check Something Off – to mark something as complete or having been dealt with.
- I finished cleaning the kitchen. You can now check that off the list.
Check Out – remove a book from a library for loan.
- I checked out three books from the library today.
Trick to Remember the Difference: Cheque vs. Check
If you can’t decide whether to use check or cheque, there’s an easy way to remember.
Cheque spelled with qu is uncommon, or quirky in American English. Remember the qu from cheque and quirky, and you’ll know that using cheque is quirky.
There is nothing wrong with sounding quirky, but if that’s not your intention (especially in academic and professional writing), stick with check instead.
Summary: Check vs. Cheque
Is it check or cheque? Check has many meanings, one of which is an order for a bank to transfer funds to another entity. In this sense, it shares its meaning with the British spelling of the term cheque.
Even in British English, cheque is only used in financial contexts and check is used in most other ones.
If you need help deciding whether to use cheque or check, you can refer back to this article for a reminder.
- Check is the preferred spelling in American English for all contexts.
- Cheque is the preferred British English for financial contexts.