There are already some posts talking about inquiry, enquiry, and survey.

However, a real sharp definition and distinction between survey and inquiry words is still missing and I'd like to be sure about their differences and best uses.

4 Answers 4


Martin Beckett's answer uses both words in a different sense from the way I understand your question, so I have a different answer.

Assuming that you are asking in the context of a sizable investigation into something:

  • an inquiry is a process in which individuals are summoned or invited to give their evidence, opinions, preferences and arguments: generally individuals who know that they something to say on the matter.

  • a survey is a process of asking the same set of questions of a number of people, who may or may not have much interest in the matter. It can also be used of collecting and comparing information about a number of products or services.

  • Is "inquiry" used out of the context of a sizable investigation?
    – igordcard
    May 26, 2011 at 17:07
  • 1
    Inquiry is used in BE to mean a formal investigation (cf. inquest) but it's used in AE to mean a question - see link in my answer
    – mgb
    May 26, 2011 at 17:58

Aside from any narrower/technical meanings of the words, such as "marketing survey" or "court of inquiry", I would use "survey" to indicate that a more comprehensive knowledge is the aim. An "inquiry" would be more likely (but not exclusively) to be focused on resolving a particular question, while a survey would aim toward comprehensive knowledge of a subject area in its entirety.

For example, a book's subject matter might be:

a survey of pre-Civil War US history


an inquiry into the causes of the American Civil War


Survey would be to study a range of items/options while inquire is more specific.
"I surveyed the range of TVs on the market" - "I inquired/enquired about the Sony model XXXX"

edit: Assuming this answer Enquire and inquire we decided that you mean enquire (in the AE sense)


Let's try this one: A peer to peer or folksy opinion/question-leaning enquiry (not so much inquisition-sounding inquiry) rather than an officially formatted survey

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