Enquiry vs Inquiry
These days, the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between the two. Enquiry means to ask a question, and inquiry is a formal investigation. Yet another difference lies in the etymological source of the prefixes ‘en’ and ‘in’. ‘En’ comes from French, and ‘in’ from Latin. Inquiry has a formal and official ring to it, while enquiry is informal in its connotation.
In general parlance, it is understood that enquire is to be used for ‘asking’, while inquire is what constitutes ‘making a formal investigation’. In reality though, enquiry is preferred in British English, whereas the Americans are more comfortable with inquiry. As a matter of fact, it is only in British English that any attention is paid to the distinction. In US and Australian English, inquiry has, for all practical purposes, taken over.
Another way of distinguishing between the two terms, is to know the differences between the Enquiry Based System of Education (ECB) and the Inquiry Based System of Education (ICB). At the ECB, the students are encouraged to be naturally inquisitive and curious, and base their queries on their innate desire to learn. In the latter case, the focus is on conforming to the syllabus, and asking questions which assist with that task, while not paying too much attention to attaining pure knowledge.
If you wanted to find a place where you could order your visiting cards, you would make enquiries with your friends or business associates. On the other hand, if a former employer of yours were to withhold your dues, you would get an inquiry instituted against him by the relevant authorities.
In spite of there being a clear distinction in the meanings of the two terms, people, more often than not, use them interchangeably. You could say that enquiry is a request for truth, knowledge or information, whereas an inquiry is an investigation into something.
For the common man, the two are the same, and he could use the two terms for the same thing, without a thought, and be well understood by everyone. People who are more erudite and aware, would perhaps be more careful with their choice of terms, and use the one that is appropriate for the occasion. However, in certain matters, such as an official inquiry ordered by a court of law, you would think twice before replacing inquiry with enquiry.
1. Enquiry means asking a question, and inquiry is a formal investigation.
2. The prefix ‘en’ comes from French, and ‘in’ from Latin.
3. Enquiry is a request for truth, knowledge or information, whereas an inquiry is an investigation into something.
4. Enquiry is preferred in British English, whereas the Americans are more comfortable with inquiry.
5. In spite of there being a clear distinction in the meanings of the two terms, people often use them interchangeably.