Inquiry vs Enquiry
Inquiry and enquiry are two of the most commonly confused words in English. They have almost identical meanings and come from similar root words but understanding the subtlety of the differences between inquiry and enquiry is important and will make your writing look more elegant.
Basically, enquiry and inquiry mean investigation, but the words are used in difference contexts.
The difference between inquiry and enquiry
Inquiry is a noun, which means the act of asking for information or an official investigation. It is related to the verb inquire, which means to ask someone for information or to investigate.
- I called the doctor to inquire about my blood test results.
- Congress launched an inquiry into money laundering by major banks.
- The detective promised he would make some inquiries into the robberies.
So far, that’s quite easy to understand. But here’s where it gets confusing:
In British English, you will come across words enquiry and enquire. Basically, they have the same meaning as inquiry and inquire, but they are used in different contexts.
In British English, inquiry means a formal investigation, of the type carried out by government, police, scientists or an official organization. Enquiry has the same meaning, but it is reserved for less formal investigations. For example, you might see an enquiry desk at a library, or you might make an enquiry (ask) if someone is feeling well. The same rule applies for the verbs inquire and enquire. You use inquire for formal investigations, whereas enquire is used for less formal investigations.
So, in formal situations use inquiry and inquire:
- The Levinson Inquiry transformed the editorial policies of British newspapers.
- Police soon arrived in the area, making inquiries as to what occurred the night before.
- We contacted the university to inquire about the poor exam results over the semester.
- During the interview, the panel inquired about my previous experience.
In less formal situations use enquiry and enquire:
- I’d like to make an enquiry about the flight times at the airport.
- May I enquire about the vegetarian options on your menu?
- If you get lost, look for the signs that point to the enquiry desk.
- For general enquiries, please contact the staff at reception.
Please remember that the difference between inquiry and enquiry only really matters in British English. In American English, inquiry is preferred as a synonym for investigations in all situations and enquiry is rarely used
When to use inquiry?
Use the word inquiry in American English as a synonym for investigation or the act of asking a question.
Use Inquiry in British English as a synonym for a formal investigation.
Examples of inquiry
- We called your previous employer to make an inquiry about your role with that company.
- The new government proposed launching several inquiries into electoral fraud.
When to use enquiry?
Enquiry was widely used in British English as a synonym for investigation up until the start of the 20th century. Technically, it is not incorrect to use it in the same way, but inquiry has become the preferred word. You will still find enquiry and enquiries to describe situations where less formal information is acquired.
Examples of enquiry
- If you get lost in the museum, go to the enquiries desk and ask for a map.
- I have an enquiry about the pasta dish – is it gluten free?
Inquire vs Enquire
The verbs inquire and enquire are synonyms for the verbs ask or investigate. In US English, you should use inquire in all situations. In British English, use inquire for formal investigations and enquire for less formal questioning.
- I’d like to inquire about the position of head chef.
- When I visit the school, I’ll be inquiring about your grades.
- When the detective called, he inquired about your uncle.
- May I enquire about the price of this book? (British English)
- Sam and Jane enquired about your birthday party when I spoke to them yesterday (British English).
In US English, you should always use inquiry and inquire, regardless of the formality of the investigation. In British English, inquiry and inquire are used to describe formal/official investigations and lines of questioning, whereas enquire and enquiry are used in less formal investigations.
Consider this to help you remember:
- Police make inquiries, i.e. formal into crimes.
- Police stations have enquiry desks, i.e. where people ask for information.