Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Enquiry and Inquiry

english wordsEnquiry 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 that 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.

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  1. Thank you very much! 😉

    • wow – I am so glad I looked this up. As an American, I can say that I will be more aware of the difference in the future. Unless, that is, there is an inquiry. At that instance I will request that my replies or requests be referred to as enquiries.

  2. Very clear/easy to be understood.
    Thank you!

  3. Very informativfe,, well explained.
    Thank you!

  4. Sounds like this was written by a real scholar. I would, however, trust the explanation a lot more if the writer had said “In spite of THERE being a clear distinction” instead of “In spite of THEIR being a clear distinction.”

    • Thanks. You saved me from saying this. I was looking for a polite (and possibly private) way of letting the writer know.

    • guys…. there is no gramatical error in the use of the word THERE.
      In this situation, it has been used in the adverb – noting a position or place…. (the position is that there is no clear distinction)…
      Had they used the word THEIR, they would have been eluding to ownership…. ie, that is THEIR house, that is THEIR car…..
      There is no ownership of a clear distinction, therefore their would be the incorrect word to use in this context….

    • Try reading the passage again, Craig, albeit slower, to enable comprehension to kick in. The word used is in fact THERE as you advocate should be used, not THEIR as you misread/mis perceived.

  5. insightful approach

  6. Thank you,now I am very clear about that

  7. I appreciate the explanation. Thanks

  8. Great explanation, I would have overlooked the simple error which has now been rectified but thats just me.


  9. Sorry buddy, Australian english prefers Enquire rather than inquire… Still a british colony afterall.

  10. Thank You so much for a very clear explanation.

  11. thanks very much

  12. safe guyz really helped me wiv ma personal statement, later boi

  13. Great tool for creative writing to mark clear distinction of intent and intensity ….

    “His/Her enquiry as to my well being was dear.


    “His/Her inquiry into my whereabouts last night stung.”

  14. I’m satisfied.There is a clear distinction.

  15. Very interesting and good explanation. Thanks for clearing up that issue. I do find it amusing and a bit confusing when corrections are made within an article and yet the comments that prompted the same corrections remain without any evidence of the original error that prompted the original criticism. Why are the authors fearful of showing their revisions from the original when it would make the comments make more sense?

  16. Thank you for providing this article. It was clearly written, although extremely redundant. Glad to have the confusion alleviated as to why there is a spelling difference.

    Even still, after reading this article, I will still use inquiry for both scenarios as it remains the better word, it cannot be misinterpreted and is usable for both formal and informal circumstances.

    Also, spelling and grammar check on the computers flags “enquiry” as an incorrect spelling and suggests the usage of “inquiry” in its place.

    Enquiry has officially been replaced in my book!

  17. I have once again realized how important it is to make enquiry on words that appear confusing. There is never an end to learning. My take initially, was to assume that inquiry applied to inward activities, while enquiry stood for the opposite! I now know better, after reading this article.

  18. Thank you very much for a clear explanation.

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