Licence vs. License: What’s the Difference?

It’s easy to make spelling mistakes. All writers make them. Sometimes, however, words have more than one accepted spelling.

This is the case with licence and license. They are two variants of the same word, but they refer to different parts of speech. Continue reading for an explanation of the differences between these words, and to find out whether you should be using license or licence in your writing.

What is the Difference Between Licence and License?

In this article, I will compare licence vs. license. I will use both spellings in example sentences and explain when it is appropriate to use each. Plus, I will explain a helpful trick to keep in mind if you can’t remember whether you should use licence or license.

When to Use License

licence versus licenseWhat does license mean? License is a verb. It is defined as to permit or to endorse. Here are some examples,

  • The government licenses some business to operate, but not others.
  • The ability to fire a weapon does not license you to kill another person.

In American English, license is also a noun. It refers to a permit or certification. Common licenses include a license to drive, a license to hunt, or a license to sell liquor. Here are some example sentences.

  • Marie was excited to turn 16 and finally get her driver’s license.
  • Hank stopped at the store to buy a fishing license.
  • Flynn was disappointed that his favorite bar was losing its liquor license.
  • The Greek government said Friday it raised €246 million ($275.64 million) from a marathon three-day auction of private television broadcast licenses that was denounced by its opposition and the media industry as a power grab by the country’s ruling political party. –The Wall Street Journal

When to Use Licence

Definition of license definition of licence definitionWhat does licence mean? Licence is not commonly used in American English, but it is the only spelling for the noun in British English.

Here are the rules for British English writers,

  • Licence is used as a noun.
  • License is used a verb.

For example,

  • “TV Licensing wants to make it as easy as possible for people to pay for a TV licence, and there are a number of alternate ways people can pay, including annual direct debit, direct debit instalments, weekly or monthly cash payments.” –The Guardian

In this example, we can see a British publication making this distinction.

In American English, however,  license is the spelling of both the noun and the verb.

The following graphs chart the occurrence of the phrase “a license to” in American and British English, respectively. By using this phrase specifically, the graphs isolate the words’ noun usage.

Define license and define licence

Licensed or licenced

As you can see, license is preferred as a noun in American English. The British are much more likely to use licence in these situations.

These graphs still aren’t scientific or exact, since they only look at books written in English since the beginning of the 19th century. Nonetheless, they are useful for identifying clear trends.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Here is a helpful trick to remember license vs. licence.

If you are using the word as a verb, choose license. License the preferred spelling of the verb form of this word in both American and British English.

As a noun, you will need to pay attention to your intended audience. License is used in American English, but British English writers prefer licence for the noun sense of this word.

You can remember to reserve licence for British audiences since it is spelled with a c, like pence. A pence is equal to 1/100 of a British pound, so it should be easy to remember that a licence is, too.

Summary

Is it licence or license? Licence and license are two variants of the same word, which can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it means a permit or certification. As a verb, it means to permit or endorse.

  • In American English, only the spelling license is used, regardless of context.
  • In British English, however, license is the verb form, whereas nouns are spelled licence.

Since pence and licences are both British nouns, you should have no trouble remembering that this is the only appropriate usage case for this variant.

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