Inquire & Enquire: History, Pronunciation and Definition

The change of words from their native language to English has significantly affected thousands of words. In such occurrences, we find that a word’s meaning is completely altered, or its spelling is changed. “Inquire” and “enquire” are of two different spellings but the same word. The general definition of that word means to seek information about something or conduct a formal investigation. The corresponding nouns are inquiry (for inquire) and enquiry (for enquire).

History of Inquire & Enquire

Many words have shifted their meaning and spelling since they arrived in English; therefore, it is quite hard to justify arguments from etymology. Somehow, it is hard to define what is “correct” since the usage of words varies between various communities of speakers, and each one of them will regard their way as right.

As language evolved, it has been learnt that the Latin “inquīrere” that meant, “to seek for” was replaced by old French “enquerre”, which held the same meaning. Despite this, enquire is still used as an English word. Technically, both words are based on the act of seeking. During its passage to English, the prefix of the word” inquīrere” (Latin) became changed to en- or even at times an-. This effect was because the word arrived in Old French, in which the word was “enquerre”. Language has become more sophisticated, and we find that the same root word can be seen in different modern English words. Such words include; require, quest, question, acquire request among others.

Enquire has mostly been regarded as an alternative form of inquire. Modern dictionaries provide “inquire” as the standard form but go ahead and point out that “enquire” could still be used in the sense “to ask a question”. With time, the word “enquire” has slowly diminished as people use inquiry mostly. Unless restricted to a particular style of writing, most writers opt for inquire especially when not sure on what to pick.

In recent times, the difference developed between the two words has continued to be in use in parallel in British and roughly in other same preferences. Australian English stand in a similar position as the British English. Canadian English tends to lean more on the American English styles.

Pronunciation of Inquire & Enquire

  • Enquiry;

En-quir-y / ˈ inkwarē, in ˈ kwi(ə)rē/

[en-kwahy uhr-ee, en-kw uh-ree]

  • Inquiry;

In-quir-y / ˈ inˈkwarē, in ˈ kwi(ə)rē/

[in-kwahy uhr-ee, in-kw uh-ree]

Definitions of Inquire & Enquire

Various dictionaries worldwide, have managed to come up with different meanings of this word. For instance;

Dictionary.com;

  • Seeking or request for truth, information, or knowledge
  • An investigation, as into an incident

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary;

  • An act of asking information

Merriam-Webster;

  • To ask about, put a question
  • To search into, make investigations

Vocubulay.com;

  • To have a wish or desire to know something

Cambridge English Dictionary;

  • An official process to discover facts about something

Macmillan;

  • The process of asking about something or examining something in order to get more information

Forms of the two words

Much like any other words, these two words also come in a variety of forms. Here are a few examples of how they can be used:

  • Noun; inquiry, enquiry, inquirer, enquirer
  • Verb; inquire, enquire
  • Adverb; inquiringly, enquiringly

Use in sentences

The use of these two words differs. In a sentence, the word enquiry is commonly used as for the general sense of “ask”.

Examples:

  • I enquired about his name
  • I received an enquiry asking to provide a free quote on a bathroom renovation job in Sydney
  • The man most likely knew what was wrong because he didn’t enquire reception

For the case of inquiry, it is often used for a formal investigation.

  • There was a car crash last week, we are going to investigate and inquire about this incident
  • The police officers have asked when the inquiry will be complete
  • When Malcolm Turnbull was appointed Prime Minister of Australia in 2015 he was inquired about his new laws which would combat union corruption

In various use of words and pronunciation, it is evident that the British English differs from the US English. In practice, enquire and its associated noun (enquiry) is common in British English while inquire and its associated noun (inquiry) are common in American English.

We find that in US and Canada, there is no distinction made. Therefore, the word used is “inquiry” for both formal and informal question, whereas in Britain, the use of “enquiry” is more prevalent.

A newspaper known as the Guardian in British directs writers to use inquiry. Besides, the Oxford English Dictionary only recognises” inquire” as a more dominant form. This tends to diminish enquire. (From Oxford Dictionaries)

Particularly in the UK, the two words are of different use in a sentence. Enquiry means a question (informal) while inquiry means an investigation (formal). (Wiktionary)

Example (from sentence.yourdictionary.com); here is a sentence where the two words have been used.

  • Today they are having an inquiry about my job enquiry.
  • But as soon as this was accomplished the government opened a comprehensive enquiry into the causes of dissatisfaction, which served as the basis of numerous social laws, and led eventually to the establishment of universal suffrage and the substitution in Belgium of a democratic for a middle-class regime.
  • The edition of 1723 was presented as a nuisance by the Grand Jury of Middlesex, was denounced in the London Journal by “Theophilus PhiloBritannus,” and attacked by many writers, notably by Archibald Campbell (1691-1756) in his Aretelogia (published as his own by Alexander Innes in 1728; afterwards by Campbell, under his own name, in 1733, as Enquiry into the Original of Moral Virtue).

When we expound on the sentence, we see that the seeking being carried out is due to asking for the job. When a job opportunity is posted on the newspaper, you would go ahead and ask for the vacant position; that is to enquire. If your asking is being looked into, then is correct to say that an inquiry is conducted.

Here are more sentences that are in the (UK convention)

  • The judge has suspended the inquiry into the police shooting of the escaped mental patient.
  • I would like to enquire about the toilet facilities in the hotel.

Both the nouns inquiry and enquiry can mean inquest, question or investigation. You can choose to use them interchangeably. In the US, “enquiry” is considered as a spelling mistake of “inquiry”. The fact that these two words have a different meaning makes you keen when referring to something on someone. However, there is still notable leniency on this distinction. These words have been used interchangeably for a very long time now. The words like may other are bound to continue changing meaning and usage as time goes by.

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