91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

TWTS: An inquiry into "inquire" and "enquire"

Ways To Subscribe

A listener named Osmond Nesbitt recently asked us to explain the difference between "inquire" and "enquire." Our colleague, Stateside producer April Van Buren, happened to see that question and sent us the following inquiry:

"I know you can inquire, and you can require, and you can be an esquire, but can you ever just 'quire'?"

No. The end.

Just kidding! There's always more to talk about when it comes to language. Verbs like "acquire," "require," and "inquire" are related and all go back to Latin. They're also related to "query," and that's probably the closest we can get to just "quire."

"Squire" and "esquire" have different roots and aren't related to the aforementioned verbs.

So, is there a difference between "inquire" and "enquire"?

When it comes to "inquire" vs. "equire," the only real difference seems to be how they're spelled. In American English, "inquire" is the most common spelling and is typically listed as the main spelling in American dictionaries. Entries for "enquire" will usually just cross-reference back to "inquire."

In British English, the "e" spelling turns up more often, but the "i" spelling is also used.

Interestingly, the verbs "insure" and "ensure" also go back to Latin and French, just like "inquire" and "enquire." However, in this case, there is a distinction. "Ensure" means "to make certain, or sure, or safe." While "insure" shares that meaning, it's also used to talk about formal insurance from an insurance company.

There were some grammarians who tried to make a distinction between "inquire" and "enquire" happen. They argued we "enquire" into personal matters and "inquire" into non-personal, institutional matters. Luckily, it never caught on.

Stay Connected
Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.