Enquire vs. Inquire: Investigating the Difference

The words inquire and enquire both relate to seeking information. In some English-speaking countries, the two words are considered to be synonyms, but in others, they're used in different situations. Discover how to choose between enquire vs. inquire based on where you are located and the circumstances under which you are looking for information.

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What Do Enquire and Inquire Mean?

Enquire is really just a variation of inquire. The words enquire and inquire mean the same thing, though the situations in which each is appropriate vary. Both words are verbs that can mean:

  • to ask - such as asking a series of questions or requesting information that requires research
  • to investigate - as in conducting research to find out what occurred or to discover an underlying cause

The past tense forms of these verbs are enquired and inquired. This form would be used to refer to an effort to find information that was conducted in the past and is now over.

What Do Enquiry and Inquiry Mean?

These words can also be expressed in noun form, using the terms enquiry vs. inquiry. Rather than describing the action of seeking information, these terms refer to a particular quest for information. These terms can be used to name:

  • an investigation - such as who committed a crime or what started a fire
  • a request for information - such as background screening record or credit report for a prospective tenant
  • a review of facts or scientific principles - such as exploring a research question or seeking support for a hypothesis

Usage in Different Countries

Even though enquire and inquire have the same meanings, usage varies in different English-speaking countries. Choosing to use enquire vs. inquire or enquiry vs. inquiry is really a function of what country you are in.

  • United States/Canada - If you're communicating with someone in the U.S. or Canada, it's best to use inquire or inquiry rather than the versions that begin with "e." The word enquire is seldom used in North American English-speaking countries.
  • England/UK - Enquire was originally a British spelling of inquire. Both enquire and inquire are commonly used in England now, as are enquiry and inquiry, in most situations. However, the versions that begin with "e" should not be used to describe an official investigation.
  • Australia - In Australia, it is common practice to use enquire or enquiry for general situations in which one is seeking information. For formal investigations, inquire or inquiry should be used.

Forms of Enquire and Inquire in Sentences

Review a few sample sentences that feature various forms of enquire and inquire. This can provide you with insights regarding how different versions of these words can be used.

  • I would like to enquire as to the requirements for becoming a nurse.
  • He's making an enquiry about backpacker hostels.
  • She enquired about job openings with ABC company.
  • May I inquire where you purchased that lovely coat?
  • They're involved in an official police inquiry.
  • After I inquired about the so-called service charge, the store refunded the cost.

Enquiry and Inquiry vs. Query

The word query is another term that is similar to enquiry and inquiry, but there is an important distinction. While enquiry is simply a variation of inquiry, query is not a variation of either word. Making a query does involve seeking information, but the scope of a query is much more limited than an enquiry or inquiry. Query is really just a formal word for asking a fairly basic question.

  • An author would write a query letter to a publisher seeking to get a book accepted for publication. (The answer to the question posed in the letter will be yes or no. That's why this is a query rather than an inquiry or enquiry).
  • An author might make an inquiry (or enquiry) to an agent, to get a sense of how to go about seeking literary representation from the agent. (This is not a simple question that will produce a quick yes or no answer. It will involve both parties sharing information and engaging in dialogue. That's why this is an inquiry or enquiry rather than a query.)

Choose Based on Geography

In most cases, it is technically correct to use enquire and inquire as synonyms. The exception, of course, is when you're talking about an official investigation in the UK or Australia. In that case, it's important to use inquire. Otherwise, it's not wrong to use either term.

However, appropriate language usage choices are about more than just being correct or incorrect. Consider what makes the most sense to your readers while also portraying you in a positive light as a writer. It's best to use the most common terminology based on geography, either where you or those who will be reading your work are located.

Learn More About Country-Specific Differences

Now that you're familiar with how words can be spelled and used differently in varying geographic areas where the same language is spoken, it's time to discover some more country-specific differences. Begin by exploring some American and British spelling differences. Deepen your understanding by learning about key differences between American and British English.