Enquiry vs Inquiry – Tips from an English teacher in Bristol!

Posted on September 17, 2013 by admin in English Tips

I was asked today which of the above is correct and I had to stop and think.

I have always used ‘enquiry’ when talking about general questions or requests, i.e. thank you for your enquiry about our range of ….., and inquiry when meaning an in-depth investigation, i.e. ‘The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry’.
But then I remembered a teacher who always used to ask “May I inquire as to what it is you think you’re doing?”. Whenever he caught us somewhere we shouldn’t be. The pronunciation was unmistakably an ‘i’ and and not an ‘e’. Surely he, an English teacher, would know?

So, I turned to the dictionary. The OED says under ‘enquiry’ that it is British, however under ‘inquiry’ just states it’s another word for enquiry. Nothing solved there. So then I turned to a Collins dictionary, nothing learned here either, it showed both spellings with no indication as to why. My heart yearned for the red hardback dictionary which had always had the answer to my question, but alas, that was last seen some 35 years ago.

To the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, and at last clarity: enquiry – British English, inquiry – N American English. And just when I thought sanity was about to reign, under inquiry, it simply gave it as an alternative spelling with no further explanation!!

Inquest is always with an ‘i’. One always ‘enquires’ after a person’s well-being and the rest is down to personal choice, it would seem.

I think I shall promote my long held stance of ‘enquire’ for general usage, and ‘inquire’ when it’s a more in-depth investigation. Unless of course there’s a font of knowledge out there that can that can shed a little light……..

Nilaben Tailor
English Teacher in Bristol
Email on witchtea@hotmail.com if you are looking for EFL classes in Bristol
Hathi – Learning Tree

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