The Easy Explanation
The words “inquiry” and “enquiry” (and their other forms) are actually interchangeable and roughly mean a request for information or an examination of facts.
In the United States, “inquire” and “inquiry” are used more commonly then “enquire” or “enquire,” although either form is technically correct.
In British English, “inquire” and “inquiry” are typically used to mean a formal investigation, while “enquire” and “enquiry” usually refer to the question or request itself.
When to Use Enquire vs. Inquire
When to Use Enquiry vs. Inquiry
The noun “inquiry” means a request for information or an examination of facts. Its verb form, “inquire,” means to ask. The spelling with an “i” is generally preferred in American English, with almost every style guide and dictionary giving preference to this spelling. Neither spelling is technically incorrect, however.
During the official inquiry, the attorney inquired about what caused the high-rise building to collapse.
The noun “enquiry” (and its verb form, “enquire”) is used in British English to refer to a request for information (as in to ask). The noun “inquiry” (and its verb form, “inquire”) usually is used to refer to a formal investigation. (Again, however, these are general preferences and not hard-and-fast rules.)
During the official inquiry, the attorney enquired about what caused the high-rise building to collapse. (The same sentence written with British spelling preferences.)
In casual writing, the key is to be consistent. If you use the spelling “inquire” then be certain to use the noun form “inquiry” rather than “enquiry” and so on.
The following use American spelling preferences:
- The inquiry into who mugged the school mascot was fruitless. (meaning a formal investigation)
- The Senator inquired after the health of the voter’s mother. (meaning asked)
- A departmental enquiry sought to find how the fact error had entered the publication. (technically still not incorrect although not a common spelling for this purpose)
- The police officer enquired the suspect on his whereabouts earlier that night. (not a commonly used spelling in the United States)
How to Remember the Difference
To remember that inquiry/inquire is the preferred spelling in the United States, try to remember this sentence: I really should remember how INquire is spelled IN the States.