Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Is there a difference between inquiry and enquiry or can the two words be used interchangeably? Well, as with so many other spelling and grammar issues, the answer can be a little complex. A big part of this has to do with the difference between American and Canadian (British) spelling, as what may be true in one version of English may not be true in the other.

The short answer is that “inquiry” and “enquiry” are effectively variants of the same word, offering the noun versions of the verbs “to inquire” and “to enquire,” respectively. Someone might send me a message to inquire about a rate quote. Alternatively, that person may be making an enquiry about the writing services I provide.

To “inquire” (or “to enquire”) is to ask about something. It has to do with requesting or seeking information. In this way, they can almost be used interchangeably if it were not for a couple of complications.

In British English, an “enquiry” is more about a general asking of information, like how you would enquire about hotel amenities. By contrast, an “inquiry” is more of a formal investigation, usually in the realm of science or law. You might say that the courts ordered a formal inquiry into the corruption accusations of the local police department.

In American English, such a distinction is usually not made and the two terms are equivalent. However, you’ll find that “inquiry” is used far more often in the United States and “enquiry” may show up as a spelling mistake (like it does as I write this blog post in my Chrome browser).

And due to the nature of Canadian English being rooted in British English but being subject to heavy American influence, both “enquire” and “inquire” end up being used here by different people. Given the scope of the Internet, though, I am seeing a lot more “inquiries” than “enquiries.”

So, the long and the short of it is you should keep your primary audience in mind when choosing between “enquiry” and “inquiry.” Would you like to inquire about any other ambiguities for a future Grammar 101 entry?