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I received an email today with "a simple inquiry." I responded that her "enquiry" was quite reasonable before I realized that we were spelling the word differently. Dictionary.com has enquiry as an alternate spelling of inquiry -- is the difference regional, archaic, a modern misspelling, or just a random variant? Anyone know?

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Vaguely related: Insure vs. ensure – Brian Nixon Feb 3 '11 at 2:05
up vote 9 down vote accepted

In British English, enquiry is most commonly used for the general meaning of “question”, while inquiry tends to be reserved for the sense of “formal investigation”.

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Whereas in American English, the usage is more-or-less reversed: inquiry is just a synonym of question, while enquiry is either misspelled, or is some sort of a formal affair. – Marthaª Feb 2 '11 at 21:12

According to this etymology dictionary entry, the original spelling was the e- form. And according to the New Oxford American, enquiry is "chiefly British".

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If the US tabloid National Inquirer were published in the UK, would the name be changed to National Enquirer? Inquiring people want to know... – oosterwal Feb 2 '11 at 21:26
@oosterwal: Yes or no and anyway I believe the US tabloid's name is The Enquirer. – RedGrittyBrick Feb 2 '11 at 23:07
@RedGrittyBrick: I always get that messed up! – oosterwal Feb 2 '11 at 23:14
@oosterwal - I suppose that you could use either as an investigation carried out by journalists could carry the requisite rigour to count as an inquiry, rather than an enquiry. Then again I don't think anyone's ever implied that the National Enquirer has any journalistic rigour before, so the enquiry form is probably right – Keith Feb 7 '11 at 11:28

For general use it's just different variations of the same word.

In some special cases the usage differs, though. I developed software for steel business a while back, and IIRC an enquiry is a special form of a business proposition.

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