“Is it possible to make an inquiry?” he enquired

in Back to basics

In a recent edition of my monthly email newsletter (The Pips – sign up here if you’d like to receive it), I asked people to let me know if they had any copywriting questions they’d like me to answer in future blog posts.

One lovely subscriber came back and asked: “What is the difference between an ‘enquiry’ and an ‘inquiry’? Are they interchangeable or do they have specific usages?”

Well, the answer is that they are broadly speaking interchangeable but there are a few nuances to be aware of.

In UK English, traditionally, ‘enquire’ and ‘enquiry’ are just a different way of saying ‘ask’:

I’d like to enquire if you have a room for the night
She made an enquiry about the availability of chocolate

On the other hand, ‘inquire’ and ‘inquiry’ are traditionally used when the situation is more formal:

A detective came to inquire into the incident
I’m helping police with their inquiries

Note my use of ‘traditionally’ here. I think we do tend to only use ‘enquire’ in informal situations – ‘helping police with their enquiries’ just doesn’t look right.

On the other hand, we do tend to use inquiry / enquiry interchangeably in informal situations.

This interchangeability in UK English is perhaps because US English typically only uses ‘inquire’, whatever the gravity of the situation.

Interesting? I hope so.

If you’ve got any wordy questions you’d like me to write about, get in touch.

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