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?

  • Vaguely related: Insure vs. ensure – Brian Nixon Feb 3 '11 at 2:05
  • @BrianNixon I understand you prefaced your comment with vaguely but I must disagree. Because enquiry and inquiry are actually defined with the same definition, it would have been more appropriote to use color vs. colour; or realisation vs. realization. Insure is not defined the same as ensure. You purchase an insurance policy to insure yourself. And you leave with plenty of time to ensure that you will not be late. Insure is used when referencing the commercial practice of issuing an insurance policy. – Steve Kinzey May 17 at 6:19
up vote 10 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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