I recall that at school (in the late 1960s/early 1970s) in England I was taught how and when to use Practice and Practise. What I was taught was this:

  1. Practice, when used as a verb, means to do something repetitively in order to become better at it - e.g. "I am practicing on the piano".

  2. Practise, when used as a verb means to work in a profession or vocation - e.g. "I am practising as a dentist".

  3. The noun form is always "practice" - e.g. "I have to do my piano practice". "my dental practice is in the middle of town".

But what I was taught - about the verb form 1 and 2 - does not seem to be reflected in modern reference works. See, for example



Am I misremembering what I was taught about the two verb forms (1 and 2) with different meanings? Was I wrongly taught? Or was anyone else taught the same? Can anyone find any example of this usage?

An example of what I am looking for would be a passage like this “When I visited my father who practises as a doctor he was practicing the piano.”

A passage like this “When I visited my father who practices as a doctor he was practising the piano.” would be equally interesting.

Or a textbook explaining such usage.

N.B.1 I am aware that there are "c" and "s" variations between usage in England and usage in the U.S.A., for example, as well as between nouns and verbs, and no doubt spellings may change over time, but what I am interested in is NOT VARIANTS (i.e. NOT different spellings which mean the same) but rather where in the same time period and same country different spelling of the verb is used to distinguish between meaning 1 and meaning 2.

N.B. 2 This is a bit speculative but, in case it gives anyone any clues, I recall that some time ago on some kind of discussion group someone explained the usage above and that person was based in India. My school was in England and the teacher was of English descent but I suppose that it is not impossible that he might have grown up in India as he would have been born in the colonial period well before India gained independence and when there was a sizeable English population in India.


4 Answers 4


The British dictionary I have access to that is nearest in time to the period you refer to is The Penguin English Dictionary, revised edition (1969). It follows what I take to be the normal pattern in British English of spelling the noun forms of the word as practice and the verb forms of the word as practise. Here are the relevant entries from that reference work:

practice n frequently repeated act, habit, custom; repeated exercises done to gain skill; performance, action carrying out a theory; usual method or procedure; ritual, ceremony; professional activity (of doctor, lawyer etc); patients; clients; (coll) trickery, deceitful schemes; (math) concise method of reckoning prices; [phrase forms omitted] ~practice adj done to acquire skill or experience; preliminary; experimental.


practise v/t and i do regularly or habitually, esp to gain skill or experience; exercise oneself (a); train, accustom; carry out (a theory etc) in action; carry on (a profession); p. on take unfair advantage of; trick, delude ~practised adj expert, skilled.

In short, Penguin endorses spelling both the "do regularly or habitually to gain skill or experience" and the "carry on (a profession)" senses of the verb as practise.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, second edition (1987) generally agrees with Penguin (I have omitted most notes and all examples throughout this abbreviated version of the relevant entries):

practice {also -tise AmE} n 1 regular or repeated performance or exercise in order to learn to do something well 2 the actual doing of something (rather than the idea of it) 3 the business of a doctor or lawyer 4 a repeated,habitual, or standard act or course of action

practise {also -tice AmE} v 1 to do (an action) or perform on (esp. a musical instrument) regularly or repeatedly in order to gain skill 2 to do (the work of a doctor, lawyer, etc.) 3 to act in accordance with (the ideas of one's religion) 4 fml to make continuous use of (a course of action) 5 fml to do; perform

Although Longman reports that practise is sometimes used in American English as the spelling for noun forms of the word, my own experience is that the spelling practise is quite rare in U.S. publishing for either noun or verb forms, and that the spelling practice predominates to an overwhelming degree as a noun and as a verb. Bill Bryson, Brysion's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right (2002) says that there is considerable misunderstanding—outside North America—about U.S. usage on this point:

practice, practise. "U.S. usage ... spells both noun and verb practise, as with license" (Fieldhouse, Everyman's Good English Guide). That is a common misconception outside North America. In the United States, practice is in fact always spelled with a c: practice, practiced, practicing. In British usage, the noun is spelled practice ("Practice makes perfect") and the verb practise ("You must prctise your piano lessons").

Sure enough, Henry Fieldhouse, Everyman's Good English Guide (1982) makes the wildly inaccurate assertion about U.S. usage that Bryson attributes to it [combined snippets]:

practice/practise The noun is practice, the verb practise (Practice makes perfect, so practise and keep practising). U.S. usage does not make this distinction, but spells both noun and verb practise, as with license (q.v.).

In any event, both Penguin in 1969 and Longman in 1987 give no hint that the preferred spelling of practice/practise as a verb differs depending on whether the sense of the verb involves doing something repeatedly in order to improve at it or pursuing a profession. I suspect that any rule asserting that the spellings should differ on this basis is highly localized and perhaps idiosyncratic.

A similar pair—in terms of spelling, though not pronunciation—is advice (noun) and advise (verb), as Cherry Chappell, Penguin Writers' Guides: How to Write Better Letters (2006) points out. Another source—Victor Meek, My Five All Went to Grammar School: A Working Man Tells How He Brought Up His Family (1959)—observes that devise/device follows the same pattern as advise/advice, and practise/practice, with the -ise form the verb and the -ice form the noun.

An interesting chart in Paul Baker, American and British English: Divided by a Common Language? (2017) shows some alteration in the preference for practise over practice as a verb in British English. Baker offers the following commentary on the chart, which tracks both British preference for practise as a verb and American preference for practice as a verb for the years 1931, 1961, 1991, and 2006:

Figure 2.7 shows that in British English, the expected preference for practise as a verb has declined somewhat [in the corpus] from 100% adherence in 1931 to around four in five cases in 2006.

Baker doesn't address the question of why, after dropping from 100% in 1931 to about 79% in 1961, the preference for practise actually rose to about 95% in 1991 before sinking back to about 80% in 2006. The reason for the large drop between 1931 and 1961 likewise remains unexplained. A comparable chart of British preference for licence as a noun over license (the American English preference) shows an increase in that preference in 1961 versus 1931—so the decline in popularity of practise as a verb between 1931 and 1961 seems not to rest on a general embrace of U.S. spelling preferences during that period. But if it reflects the influence of teachers in all or part of Britain who instructed their students to use practice for "repeating efforts to improve" and to use practise for "engaging in a particular profession," I haven't found contemporaneous published instances of that instruction.

  • "I suspect that any rule asserting that the spellings should differ on this basis is highly localized and perhaps idiosyncratic." Could it be one of the archaic features of Victorian English that Indian English retained?
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 7:34
  • 2
    @nick012000: I checked several 19th-century British Dictionaries, including Ogilvie & Annandale, The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language (1883), without discovering any such distinction. Ogilvie has separate entries for practise as a transitive verb and practise as an intransitive verb, but nothing for practice as a verb of any kind.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 16:24
  • 1
    ...Stephen Jones, Sheridan Improved: A General Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language, third edition (1798) anticipates Ogilvie in offering separate entries for "To PRACTISE" distinguished on the basis of whether they are "active" or "neuter"—but again has no entry for practice as a verb. Johnson's 1755 dictionary does the same thing.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 16:41

The Grammarist has some interesting insight on this. It seems that:

Canadian English also favors practise as the verb (like the Americans), but practice appears with relative frequency as a verb (about a third as often as practise).

So your query is not totally ungrounded. Practice and practise are used as verbs in the same country, yet not always with difference in meaning. The Grammarist goes on to reveal that not even the Americans are completely innocent:

This ngram graphs the use of practiced and practised in American books published between 1800 and 2000. It suggests that the verb practise has been in decline since the 19th century and is only rarely used now.

So there you go, they are both used in the USA, too. But if you look up examples of practiced and practised in the Corpus of Historical American English, you will find that they are used interchangeably to mean train or perform but only practice seems to be used to mean to carry out a profession. I even found one example with both verbs used in the same sentence:

After the run they began practicing [performing] the commands they had practised [trained for, exercised] earlier and the stallion had reacted perfectly. Darrel decided to head back. (Fan Fic, Darrel of Pellucidar)

So in America, at least from the COHA examples, it looks like you can use either, as long as you reserve the spelling with c for the meaning of carrying out a profession. Just bear in mind that nevertheless, practise tends to be rare, and it makes me wonder if it is not used in a kind of hidden desire to "sound" British in writing. Merely in passing, the GrammarMonster notes that:

Some in the US are starting to follow the UK convention.

On the other side of the Atlantic, it is practice that is said to be rarely used as a verb, so rarely that it makes you suspect it is a typo. Hansard examples of it are scarce:

However, as someone who has practiced 781 the law for 35 years, I must make the point that ... (Mr Andrew Phillips, 2000.03.28)

(That's one of the 4 instances of practiced vs a crushing 450 of practised).

Here, however, there is proof that both terms are used in the UK, too. Instead of being a typo, it looks like practiced begins to circulate more after the year 2000 as a verb obtained through verbing from the noun practice (with meaning 3 that you provided).

Yet, it looks like this is too fresh an increase in use to be dealt with in grammar books. James D. McCawley doesn't mention anything about this in The Syntactic Phenomena of English. CaGEL is quiet too, though it uses the word profusely in its grammatical explanations, (very often as a noun with the meaning of linguistic habit). Quirk was published some 35 years ago and did not comment on it. So I am afraid that Ricky is right, it is not easy to find a reputable reference for what you are advocating.

Most sites stick to the traditional distinction between AmE and BrE and between nouns and verbs for the BrE. I suspect issues as your one here will be raised in the future, but for the time being, you can only wait for an experienced linguist with the feel of the pulse of language to stop by and share his yet unpublished knowledge.

I almost gave up looking, when I found this very interesting article which goes through the etymology, pronunciation and orthography of both noun and verb, explaining modern use of practice/pracise. The author, Tom Freeman, is an assistant editor for a charity in London, and he is in favour of the American use. He writes:

Let’s face it: this distinction is pointless. The Americans are right to reject it. It serves no purpose other than to make some people feel confused, to make others feel smug, and to waste everyone’s time. Precisely zero confusion would result if we spelt the verbs and nouns the same way. Why do we in Britain have this distinction?

After a competent analysis of the evolution of the word, he concludes:

In more recent history, the Google Books data shows that, from 1800 to 2000, the practice spelling of the noun has reigned supreme, with practise very rare. The verb’s spelling has been more mixed, but practise has consistently been well ahead of practice – until recently. This recent rise in practice as a verb might be part of the catastrophic modern decline in literacy that swivel-eyed liberals have inflicted upon our once-great education system, but I think it’s more likely that this is a sign of growing American influence.

It is of course only one opinion, but it is expressed in a decent and capable manner. The author even has a prophecy:

I think we’re in the middle of a generational shift. Soon, dictionaries will accept practice as a variant spelling of the verb. Then, as it becomes more and more popular, they’ll stop labelling it variant. Practise will survive but seem old-fashioned, like whilst or homoeopathy. Those of us who’ve had the distinctions drilled into our heads will continue to twitch when we notice a “wrong” spelling, but in time we’ll die out. The earth will close over our heads and English will live on, that bit more efficient for being rid of us.

  • 2
    That is tantilising but, playing Devil's advocate for a moment, much of what you have uncovered is statistical. The one example which demonstrates different meaning in the same sentence is Fan Fic, Darrel of Pellucidar but could that be just mistake/co-incidence? Ideally I am looking for something from a textbook of English grammer which mandates and explains the different spelling.
    – Nemo
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 18:40
  • I suspect many recent changes in BrE spelling, including this one, are a direct result of the Internet—and the vast majority of material on it being written in AmE. For better or worse.
    – StephenS
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 13:59
  • I practice, but I do not believe. I am aware that practise exists as an alternative written form of practice, but I have not written it consciously in years. It’s like whilst, as has been pointed out by others here.
    – user205876
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 17:07
  • @GlobalCharm Your profile says you are located in Canada. Thank you for your input, it is interesting to see what native's natural instincts are.
    – fev
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 17:09
  • @fev I have spent a good part of my life in the U.S., and most of the people I work with are either Americans or speakers of Global English, which has become detached from Ye Olde English of Merrie England. The U.K. is pretty small and uninfluential these days, and “British English” with Oxbridge spelling and Received Pronunciation is essentially just another dialect.
    – user205876
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 0:21

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary flatly states that practise is a verb. The listed meanings include the two examples you've provided.

Oxford Dictionary - practise

That said, many local schools around the globe teach things that later in life can't withstand scrutiny.

In American English the noun and verb are spelled the same (i.e. practice).

On a different note, why do you guys insist on driving on the wrong side of the street?

  • The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary includes '(US English: practice)'. Flatly (if reformatted). Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 16:02

As you were taught British English, the distinction in British English is valid as taught.

The OED gives

practice, n.

Forms: late Middle English–1500s practyse, late Middle English– practice, late Middle English– practise (now nonstandard), 1500s practyce, 1500s practyss, 1500s praictes, 1500s–1600s practis, 1500s–1600s practize, 1600s practese; Scottish pre-1700 practeis, pre-1700 practeise, pre-1700 practeiss, pre-1700 practeize, pre-1700 practese, pre-1700 practeze, pre-1700 practis, pre-1700 practize, pre-1700 practyse, pre-1700 prakteis, pre-1700 praktes, pre-1700 prattis, pre-1700 prectize, pre-1700 1700s– practice, pre-1700 1700s– practise (now nonstandard)

practise | practice, v.

Forms: late Middle English practese, late Middle English practissed (past participle), late Middle English praktyse, late Middle English–1600s (1800s U.S. regional) practyse, late Middle English– practice (now chiefly U.S.), late Middle English– practise, late Middle English– practize (now nonstandard), 1500s practis, 1500s practizde (past participle), 1500s practyce, 1500s practysse, 1600s practysd (past participle), 1600s prectice; Scottish pre-1700 practase, pre-1700 practeis, pre-1700 practeiz, pre-1700 practeze, pre-1700 practis, pre-1700 practish, pre-1700 practissed (past participle), pre-1700 practissit (past participle), pre-1700 practiz, pre-1700 practyse, pre-1700 praktese, pre-1700 pratize, pre-1700 prattyse, pre-1700 precteis, pre-1700 1700s– practice, pre-1700 1700s– practise, pre-1700 1700s– practize, pre-1700 1800s practese, 1800s practeese, 1800s– practeeze.

You will note that the dates of the noun either predate or are at the time of the American colonies, and none of the spelling post 1776 are currently valid. In any case, standardised spelling started in earnest in the 18th century when the 'c' noun and 's' verb appeared.

The use by British English speakers of "practice" as a verb is a reflection of the influence of American English on all Englishes.

So the use of practice (noun) and practise (verb) dates back to Middle English and is valid in British English, and hence most of the ex-Empire.

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