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When I initially wrote inforce the dictionary told me that enforce was the correct word.

However, when I wrote reenforce it told me that reinforce was the word I was looking for.

So, I searched this on-line, but didn't find anything useful except this post

Can someone elaborate on this further?

  • Oxford Lexico says of reinforce: Origin Late Middle English from French renforcer, influenced by inforce, an obsolete spelling of enforce; the sense of providing military support is probably from Italian rinforzare. – Weather Vane Jun 21 at 23:32
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    Spellings of unstressed vowels are irrelevant, since they're all reduced anyway. Consequently the spellings will vary. Almost nobody notices. Even computers don't care. – John Lawler Jun 21 at 23:57
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    Your spellchecker is rather poor, I'm afraid. However, you have to run your fingers through some seven centuries of variations in spellings of enforse, enfoarce, enforce, inforse, inforce, rainforce, reenfors, reënforce, re-enforce, reenforce, re-enforce, reinforce, and several more besides those to have any hope of making some sense of it all. I lament to inform you that many more of those are still in occasional current use than are dreamt of by your mindless spellchecker. – tchrist Jun 22 at 2:13
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The reason the spellings are different is that reinforce does not mean "to enforce again". The word enforce is defined by the Macmillan dictionary and others as

to make sure that a law or rule is obeyed by people

or

to make sure that something happens or is done

Reinforce, however is defined as

to make an idea, belief or feeling stronger

or

to make a situation, process or type of behaviour stronger and more likely to continue

or

to make a building, structure or object stronger

or

to make a group of soldiers, police etc stronger by adding more people or equipment to it.

In short enforce means to ensure that a law or rule is obeyed or complied with, while reinforce means to make something stronger in some way.

There is no word "to inforce" meaning to make strong initially, if a building is made strong initially, say by the use of reinforced concrete in its construction it is said to be "strongly built" and, if it is later strengthened, it is then said to be reinforced.

Similarly there is no word reenforce meaning to enforce again, perhaps after a regulation has been allowed to lapse. If it was needed it might be hyphenated to give re-enfoce but the situation probably does not arise frequently enough for such a word to become universally understood.

  • This isn't really correct. The verb spelt reenforce certainly exists, and is the elder of the two spellings. Their histories are complex, with reinforce coming from the verb inforce as it was sometimes spelt at the time. Two OED citations follow: 1566 W. Painter Palace of Pleasure I. l. f. 297 — The chaste hearte of this woman, did reenforce and fortefie her courage in double wise. 1997 J. Ryan Dismantling Mr Doyle viii. 95 — She added that episode..to a number of others which..re-enforced her sense of inadequacy. – tchrist Jun 22 at 2:10
  • @tchrist The only comments I can make are that the sixteenth century example pre-dates standardised spelling; that the twentieth century example is hyphenated as I suggested and the latter is, probably, a misprint for "reinforced" anyway. – BoldBen Jun 23 at 11:00

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