The noun check/cheque references a written order to pay someone money from a bank. American English uses “check,” British English prefers “cheque.”
What is the difference between cheque and check?
The nouns check and cheque both reference a written order to pay someone a certain amount of money, and either paper form comes from a booklet called a checkbook or chequebook.
The main difference between these terms is that check and checkbook are standard for American English (AmE), while cheque and chequebook (sometimes “cheque book”) are more prevalent in British English (BrE).
The only other difference between the nouns is that “cheque” never substitutes the word “check” when it references the act of inspecting, authenticating, or impeding something (as a noun or verb).
“I need to write a check for $500.” (AmE)
“The account holder wrote the payee a cheque for £10,000.” (BrE)
“Can you check my work for errors?” (AmE or BrE)
“There are circumstances when a spelling check is necessary.” (AmE or BrE)
“Place a tick or checkmark next to your name.” (AmE or BrE)
“Are you checking the chequebook?” (BrE)
“You checked the purse for a checkbook?” (AmE)
“You can cheque for your account number on the bottom of your cheque/check.” (AmE or BrE)
“Don’t forget to cheque my purse for my chequebook/checkbook merchandise.” (AmE or BrE)
“I didn’t see a place for a chequemark on the form.” (AmE or BrE)
Which came first: check or cheque?
The spelling of check is older than cheque, as the latter arose in 18th century British English to reference a counterfoil (the initial meaning of “check”). In case you’re unsure of what a counterfoil is, it’s “the part of a cheque, receipt, ticket, or other document that is torn off and kept as a record by the person issuing it.”
Garner’s Modern English Usage (GMEU) explains how cheque gained dominant usage in British English during the 19th century and sometimes makes an appearance in American English. The spelling of check remains the standard spelling for English in the United States (Garner 159).
What does check and cheque mean?
According to GMEU, the nouns check and cheque “denote a written order directing a bank to pay money to a specified person” (159). In other words, a check/cheque is a form containing directions for their bank to pay a specific person a certain amount of money from their bank account.
Types of checks/cheques:
- Personal check: A check/cheque provided by a bank that manages one’s personal accounts (not business accounts).
- Certified check: A check/cheque that has verified how the drawer’s account has sufficient funds to pay the amount of the check (guarantees the check will not bounce).
- Cashier’s check/Teller’s check/Bank check/Official check: A check/cheque distributed by a financial institution to a named person after drawing cash from a customer’s bank account (acts like a certified check).
- Money order: A type of bill of exchange distributed from an entity or business cashier that acts as a bank when paid cash to dispense a check/cheque on a customer’s behalf.
- “Did you just write a check to purchase a soda?”
- “Make the check out to cash.”
- “Mom writes checks to avoid carrying cash.”
- “Will the doctor accept a check for the leg brace?”
- “We have to pay rent with a cashier’s check this month.”
- “The bank called about a series of small checks from the month of August.”
Fee, money, money order, payment, settlement.
Etymology of check and cheque
The switch from English check to cheque arose from the sense that a check was a “device for checking the amount of an item” or “something used to ensure accuracy or authenticity.” However, the connotation ultimately stems from the game of chess, whose namesake derives from the plural form of Old French chek –– the same word that provided English with the noun “check.”
As explained by The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD), the connection between check and chess comes from the notion of “checkmate” (a newer way to state “check”), in which a player must authenticate an opponent’s winning move. In this sense, the utterance traces back to Persia, where Persian shāh (meaning “King!”) was a “warning when the opponent’s king was under attack.”
Ironically, Persian shāh is thought to have passed through Arabic after Persia was conquered by Arabic forces, where it switched to shāh māt, meaning “the king is dead.” The Muslim world introduced chess to Northern Africa, Spain, and Sicily around the 10th century, explaining AHD’s speculations on how these phrases passed through Old Spanish before reaching Old French.
Did Persia invent chess?
Made evident by the game’s ever-changing terminology, the earliest forms of chess look very different from the version found in Europe and North America today. According to the Encyclopedia Briticanna, the earliest renditions of chess include the war game chaturanga, a game that flourished in India by the 7th century.
Historians believe chaturanga evolved into shatranj (or chatrang), a two-player game enjoyed in northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and southern areas of Central Asia after 600 CE. From there, derivatives of chaturanga or shatranj made their way to Europe by way of Persia and even developed similar versions in the East via Buddhist pilgrims and various trading routes.
Published examples of check and cheque
“On the 100 block of Brush Hill, a resident reported writing a check for $70 which was cashed at an unknown location for $700.” — Chicago Tribune
“It’s not just embarrassing to bounce checks — you will also face an NSF (insufficient funds) charge that your bank will withdraw from your account.” — MoneyWise
“Minneapolis estate law attorney Susan Link told the AP that the estate will be “writing a check for a whole lot of money” come tax season.” — People Magazine
“In January 2019, the householder paid him £5,800 for roof repairs, before handing over a cheque for £10,000 a few months later…” — BBC
“Prince Michael of Kent, the Mahfouz Foundation’s patron, awarded a cheque to the chancellor of the college on behalf of the Mahfouz Foundation.” — The Guardian
“The news that Chris Jordan will be returning to the Oval next season came in for criticism on social media, with many accusing Surrey of waving a cheque book rather than producing homegrown players.” — South London Press
If you enjoy learning differences between American English and British English, be sure to check out similar lessons by The Word Counter, such as:
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Test how well you understand the difference between check and cheque with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false?: “Check” and “cheque” are only spelling variants within financial contexts.
- “Unlike credit cards, debit cards, or wire transfers, _________ have existed as a negotiable instrument in some form since ancient times.”
d. A or C
- “Before we leave, we need to _________ the varnish on the deck.”
- Which of the following is synonymous with the plural noun “checks”?
d. Cheque book
- The word “cheques” gained popularity in American English during the ___________.
a. 18th century
b. 19th century
c. 20th century
d. None of the above
- Which of the following sentences contains a spelling error?
a. “A check writer must wait 30 to 90 days before ordering a replacement check.”
b. “A check bearer may specify a third party to whom a cheque should be paid.”
c. “Banking customers must cheque the signature line before cashing a check.”
d. “The drawee ordered a cashier’s check for $5,000.”
- Which is not the equivalent of cash?
a. Cashier’s check
b. Personal check
c. Bank check
d. Certified check
- For safekeeping against fraud, someone can request a ________________ to ensure the availability of funds from a banking account.
a. Token check
b. Certified check
c. Teller’s check
d. B and C
- The word “cheque” derives from “check” through the game of _____________ (hint: the gameboard as a checkered pattern or grid of squares).
- In the game of chess, “check” or “checkmate” is a warning said before ______________.
a. Letting an opponent pass the three-point line
b. Claiming an opposing piece on the board
c. Taking an opponent’s king piece
d. Any maneuver against an adversary’s piece
- Adams, C. “Prince’s Estate Reportedly Worth $200 Million — and It’s Taken in $25 Million Since His Death.” People Magazine, people.com, 1 Dec 2016.
- “Builder fleeced vulnerable victims out of £100,000.” BBC News, bbc.com, 12 Aug 2021.
- “Check.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021.
- “Cheque.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Chequebook.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Counterfoil.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- Garner, B. “Check and cheque.”Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 159.
- Hook, M. “I’m surprised ECB agreed to Durham cancellation + verdict on Chris Jordan’s Oval return.” South London Press, londonnewsonline.com, 3 Sept 2021.
- Pioneer Press. “Elmhurst Blotter: Semitrailer stolen from company’s lot.” Chicago Tribune, chicagotribune.com, 23 Aug 2021.
- Soltis, A. E. “Chess.” Encyclopedia Britannica, britannica.com, 11 Jun. 2021.
- Whiteman, D. “How to Write a Check.” MoneyWise, moneywise.com, 3 Feb 2021.
- Wolfe-Robinson, M. “The Saudi tycoon at the centre of an honours controversy.” The Guardian, theguardian.com, 5 Sept 2021.
Photo contributors: Main image by CreditScoreGeek; Second image by Alistair MacRobert (@alistairmacrobert) on Unsplash.