Inquire vs enquire?

The verb enquire traditionally means ‘to ask,’ while inquire means ‘to formally investigate.’ Nowadays, American and British English speakers prefer to use “inquire” for all definitions, leaving “enquire” as a lesser-known British variant.

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What is the difference between inquire and enquire?

If you’re asking for information, are you inquiring or enquiring? As it turns out, you’re doing both! Unlike most verb variants, the words inquire and enquire mostly represent the same action. However, there are times when inquire carries a different connotation than enquire

Inquire vs enquire?

For the most part, grammarians stay true to the verb’s traditional distinctions: 

  • To enquire” is ‘to casually ask.’ 
  • To inquire is ‘to formally investigate.’ 

However, contemporary English rarely makes a distinction between the verb’s meanings anymore, which means the main difference between inquire and enquire involves national variants: 

  • Inquire is the American English spelling of enquire.
  • Enquire is a chiefly British variant of inquire. 

We have good news, though. While “enquire” and “enquiry” are primarily used in the United Kingdom, the spellings of “inquire” and “inquiry” are actually the typical spellings within British and American English. 

So, no matter where you are, “inquiry” is the most-correct spelling to use. Pretty simple, right? 

Why do we use inquire instead of enquire?

In case you’re wondering which came first, the spelling of “inquire” meets the classic benchmark. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, the verb inquire entered the Modern English language via Old English enquerre and Middle English enquiren

But before crossing the Atlantic, the verb enquerre originated from Old French enquerre, which stems from Vulgar Latin inquaerere and Latin inquirere for In- (‘into’) + quaerere (‘to seek’).

Eager to know more?

If you’re interested in learning more about the difference between American and British English, we recommend reading “theatre vs. theater.” Otherwise, The Word Counter has ‘inquired’ into several other British English vs. American English terms, such as: 

Professional style guides on inquire vs. enquire

While it’s ‘all fine and good’ to brush off differences between inquire and enquire, professional style guides often enforce grammar rules for such terms. But this time, we’re pleased to report that both the Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook preferinquire” and “inquiry” over “enquire” and “enquiry.” 

Writers in the UK can also rejoice, as prominent British style guides also follow suit of “inquiry” over “enquiry,” whether it’s The Guardian, BBC News, or the University of Oxford Style Guide. Simplicity for the win! 

Writing tip: If your spellchecker keeps flagging the traditional use of “enquire,” try using up-to-date programs like Grammarly

What does inquire mean?

The word inquire (also enquire) is a verb that describes the act of questioning, investigating, politely asking a question, or analyzing. Verb forms of inquire include: inquire (present tense), inquired (past participle), and inquiring (the present participle).

For example, 

“I’m inquiring about an open position.” (present continuous) 
“My mother inquired about your services.” (simple past tense)
“Can you inquire to the extent of damages?” (present tense)

Related words

The verb inquire is found within the noun inquirer (‘one who inquires’) and the adverb inquiringly (‘in an inquisitive manner’). As a noun, we can also use inquiry to mean ‘research,’ ‘an investigation,’ or a ‘request for information.’ Similarly to the verb, the noun enquiry is more common for British English.

Example sentences:

“The inquirer is a reporter for the New York Times.” (noun)
“After the attorney’s opening statement, the judge looked inquiringly toward the defendant.” (adverb)
“We received an inquiry on your behalf regarding last year’s tax return.” (noun)

Phrases of inquire

The verb inquire is found with phrasal verbs like “inquire after,” “inquire for,” and “inquire into.” To “inquire after” is to seek information about someone out of consideration (and especially when it involves their health or condition). For example, 

“Tell father to inquire after our mother’s health.”

The phrase “inquire for” means ‘to ask to visit’ or ‘to ask to speak to’ someone. For example, 

“While you were asleep, your friend had inquired for you.”

English speakers also use the phrase “inquire into” to mean ‘to investigate’ or ‘look into’ something. For example, 

“I’d like to inquire into the state’s records of arrests in 2019.” 

Lastly, it’s common to read the phrase “inquire within” within ads or on notices located on a business’s storefront. This particular phrase often references job opportunities or temporary offers. For example, 

“Wanted: full-time writer. Inquire within.”

Synonyms of inquire

Ask, challenge, cross-examine, examine, grill, interrogate, poll, quiz, question, query, survey. 

Antonyms of inquire

Answer, acknowledge, comment, communicate, correspond, counter, react, rebut, refute, remark, reply, respond, retort, return, riposte. 

How to use inquire vs enquire in a sentence?

Regardless of the context, English speakers can use the verbs inquire and enquire interchangeably. But if you’re writing for a formal audience, it might help to use these spellings in a specific manner. 

When to use inquire

The traditional use of inquire conveys the act of a formal investigation, but we can also use the verb in a general sense to mean ‘ask for information.’ For example, 

“The police are inquiring into the disappearance of two Labradoodles.” 
“Local physicians are inquiring into the increased incidence of respiratory failure.”
“Jim’s dad is inquiring about his overdrawn bank account.”
“Many students are inquiring about the increase of college tuition.” 
“I’m inquiring about the open editing position.” 
“The principal inquires into any locker that smells suspicious.” 

When to use enquire

If you must use enquire in a sentence, make sure the verb conveys a casual pursuit of information. For example, 

“Mother enquired about my grades from last year.”
“Have you enquired your father about buying more snacks?” 

How to remember the difference between enquire vs inquire?

To remember the difference between enquire and inquire, simply associate the “E” of “enquire” with “England.” As we now know, the spelling of “enquire” is chiefly a British variant of “inquire,” although “inquire” is more common for all American and British English speakers. 

Summary:

Enquire = E = England

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand commonly confused words like enquire vs. inquire with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. The noun enquiry is a ___________ form of inquire. 
    a. British English
    b. US English 
    c. A and B
    d. None of the above
  2. The traditional sense of “inquire” meant __________________. 
    a. Asking a question
    b. Responding to an add
    c. An official investigation
    d. A and C
  3. For prominent American and British newspapers, ___________ is a misspelling of ____________. 
    a. Inquire, enquire 
    b. Enquire, inquire
    c. Inquire, inquiry
    d. Enquire, enquiry 
  4. The noun inquiry is preferred in which English speaking regions? 
    a. The United Kingdom
    b. The United States
    c. A and C
    d. None of the above
  5. “Inquire” is not associated with which English word? 
    a. Inquisitive
    b. Inquiry
    c. Inquiringly
    d. None of the above

Answers

  1. D
  2. C
  3. B
  4. C
  5. D

Sources

  1. Good usage versus common usage.” Glossary of Problematic Words and Phrases, The Chicago Manual of Style Online, 2020. 
  2. Inquire.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  3. Inquire, inquiry.” The Associated Press Style Book, Associated Press, 2020. 
  4. Inquire after sb.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  5. Inquiringly.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  6. Inquiry.” BBC News style guide, BBC News, 2020. 
  7. Inquiry.” Guardian and Observer style guide: I, The Guardian, 20 Nov 2015. 
  8. Inquiry.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  9. To inquire.” Reverso Conjugation, Reverso-Softissimo, 2020. 
  10. Tricky words.” University of Oxford Style Guide, University of Oxford, 2014, pp. 24.