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I recently saw this headline from the BBC:

Indonesia seeks to quieten noisy mosques during Ramadan

I'm a native AmE speaker, and have never seen this usage (which I am assuming is BrE, due to the source). I would have said "Indonesia seeks to quiet mosques", instead. What is the distinction between "to quiet" (which to my ear, sounds fine in this sentence) and "to quieten"? Is there one?

  • Quieten: Chiefly British To make or become quiet. thefreedictionary.com/quieten – user66974 Jun 26 '15 at 13:28
  • Quieten is a more recent formation that for some reason remained mainly British in usage: Quiet : late 14c ., "subdue, lessen," from quiet (adj.) and in part from Latin quietare. From mid-15c. as "to make silent, cause to be quiet;" intransitive sense of "become quiet, be silent" is from 1791. Quieten (v.) 1828, "to make quiet;" 1890, "to become quiet," from quiet (adj.) + -en (1) (etymonline). See also quieten down: en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/quieten_down – user66974 Jun 26 '15 at 13:35
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Per the Google Books ngram server, even in the British English corpus, quiet as a verb has long surpassed quieten in frequency. The preference for quiet as a verb is stronger in the American English corpus, but both forms are found in both corpora, and in both of them quiet as a verb is and has been the more frequent.

The OED uses quieten as a synonym in defining several senses of quiet as a verb—which suggests that there is no difference in meaning. It does not likewise use quiet as a verb in defining quieten (understandably using it rather as an adjective in that task), but according to its own entries quiet as a verb is longer established even in British usage than quieten.

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I am British and I would always use quieten. I am a writer and on the website my work is posted on for peer critiques Americans have questioned my use of quieten as opposed to quiet but I would prefer quieten as in 'managed to quieten the noise'.

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I am an Indian English speaker and I think it's safe to say we have influences from both British(from the colonial times) and American(more recent) English. Intuitively thinking about it, I'd say I would use the following

  1. to quieten - to make quiet - eg. "Indonesia seeks to quieten noisy mosques during Ramadan"
  2. to quiet - to be quiet - eg. "She told the students to quiet down" or I would use this in imperative sentences - eg. "Quiet down!"

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