This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. Learn More. GOT IT!
study

Difference Between: Inquiry vs. Enquiry

Inquiry and enquiry sound the same (ɪnkwaɪəri), but have different meanings in British English. Inquiry means ‘official investigation’ – e.g. The government launched an inquiry into corruption. Enquiry means ‘a question about something’ – e.g. The gym received an enquiry about its opening hours. Americans only use inquiry.

Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Inquiry or Enquiry?

If you speak American English, you can use inquiry to ask questions or carry out an official investigation – there is no difference:

  • Roberta made inquiries about the hotel rooms. (correct)
  • There will be an official inquiry into safety regulations at the factory. (correct)

The main thing to think about in British English is why the person or organisation is asking the question. If the question is for general information, use enquiry:

  • Roberta made enquiries about the hotel rooms. (correct)
  • Roberta made inquiries about the hotel rooms. (incorrect) 

If we are talking about an investigation conducted by an official organisation, we use inquiry:

  • There will be an official inquiry into safety regulations at the factory. (correct)
  • There will be an official enquiry into safety regulations at the factory. (incorrect)

The relationship between the people or organisation is not always important. For example, a manager-employee relationship is an ‘official’ one, but the reason the manager asks a question might not be part of an investigation:

  • The manager made enquiries about the project’s completion. (correct)
  • The manager made inquiries about the project’s completion. (incorrect)

The second example is incorrect because the manager is just asking questions; it is not an official investigation.

For an official investigation, use inquiry:

  • The manager’s inquiry found evidence of employees spending too much time on social media. (correct)
  • The manager’s enquiry found evidence of employees spending too much time on social media. (incorrect)

The first example is correct because the manager has conducted an official investigation that may contain statistics, data, and a verdict.

The main question to ask yourself when thinking about inquiry vs. enquiry is: what is this person or organisation doing? Are they asking general questions or are they carrying out an investigation that requires evidence and data to support it? Asking these questions will help you get it right every time.

Here are some more examples of correct and incorrect usage of inquiry vs. enquiry:

  • What evidence did the scientists’ inquiry provide on new energy sources? (correct)
  • What evidence did the scientists’ enquiry provide on new energy sources? (incorrect)
  • Tina made some enquiries about the vegan options on the menu. (correct)
  • Tina made some inquiries about the vegan options on the menu. (incorrect)
  • The journalist had an enquiry about whether the police would hold an inquiry into corruption in the force. (correct)
  • The journalist had an inquiry about whether the police would hold an enquiry into corruption in the force. (incorrect)

Another way you can check whether you are using inquiry and enquiry correctly is to try changing the word inquiry to investigation – e.g. The inquiry revealed that income inequality had increased can also be, The investigation revealed that income inequality had increased.

Likewise, try changing enquiry to question – e.g. The football manager made some enquires about the players available on the transfer market can also be, The football manager had some questions regarding the players available on the transfer market.

The difference between enquiry and question is that we use enquiry in a polite or formal situation – e.g. May I make some enquiries regarding my dinner reservation?

What does inquiry mean?

Inquiry (noun) means: ‘an official investigation into something’.

Synonyms: Investigation, analysis, evaluation, examination

Set expressions: Line of inquiry (a particular way of researching something) – e.g. Good cop / bad cop proved to be a useless line of inquiry, murder inquiry, judicial inquiry, government inquiry, independent inquiry.

Additional meanings:

A method of investigation or obtaining information – e.g. The scientist needed another means of inquiry to evidence her findings.

Examples with inquiry in a sentence:

  • At his inquiry, the doctor tried to justify his mistakes.
  • The police have launched an inquiry into Downing Street parties during Covid.
  • The government report was published at the end of a year-long inquiry.
  • As a result of the inquiry, the police made several arrests.
  • The public have called for an inquiry into corruption in politics.

What does enquiry mean?

Enquiry (noun) means: ‘a question about something’.

Synonyms: Question, query.

Set expressions: Often used in a compound noun for places where we can obtain information: enquiries, enquiry desk, National Rail Enquiries.

Examples with enquiry in a sentence:

  • The National Police Hotline is receiving a lot of enquiries from victims of cybercrime.
  • I have to field telephone enquiries as part of my job in IT support.
  • Please contact us by email if you wish to make an enquiry.
  • If you get lost on the university campus, go to the enquiries desk in reception.
  • I have an enquiry regarding our dinner reservation – do we have a table for two?

Inquire or enquire?

There are also verb (action word) forms of inquiry and enquiry: inquire and enquire. The difference between these words is a little more confusing!

Again, in American English, we just use inquire. However, in British English we have to think about what we said above: an inquiry is ‘an official investigation’ and an enquiry is a ‘formal way of saying a question’. Inquire and enquire both mean ‘to ask a question’. The difference is that to inquire means ‘to ask a question that provides evidence for an investigation’:

  • The police inquired about the suspect’s whereabouts that evening. (correct)
  • The police enquired about the suspect’s whereabouts that evening. (incorrect)

The first example is correct because the answer to the question helps create evidence for the police investigation.

We use to enquire for questions about more general purposes:

  • Lindsay enquired about the possibility of a double room at the hotel. (correct)
  • Lindsay inquired about the possibility of a double room at the hotel. (incorrect)

The first example is correct because Lindsay is calling to ask a general question; the answer will not form part of an official investigation.

You can find many cases of inquiry and enquiry (and inquire and enquire) being used interchangeably – just look at the dictionary definitions! So don’t worry if you find it confusing. In fact, many experts disagree on the topic.

Quiz: Inquiry or enquiry?

Try these exercises to test your understanding of the differences between inquiry and enquiry. Remember to ask yourself: why is this person or organisation asking questions? Is it for an investigation (inquiry) or is it for general information (enquiry)?

  1. The community were dissatisfied with the results of the council’s_______.
    a. inquiry
    b. enquiry
  2. Passengers can phone the National Rail Hotline with their _______.
    a. inquiries
    b. enquiries
  3. After several ________, the regulator found the energy company guilty of fraud.
    a. inquiries
    b. enquiries
  4. Please make your way to the _________desk for tourist information.
    a. inquiry
    b. enquiry
  5. The court will hold a judicial _________ into the evidence submitted in the trial.
    a. inquiry
    b. enquiry
  6. Mrs Johnson decided to email her __________ to the local council.
    a. inquiries
    b. enquiries
  7. How many independent _______ do we need before we replace this Prime Minister?
    a. inquiries
    b. enquiries
  8. In a formal situation, it’s better to say: “make an________” than, “ask a question”.
    a. inquiry
    b. enquiry
  9. In the USA, they say ________ when asking a general question or talking about an official investigation.
    a. inquiry
    b. enquiry
  10. In the UK, they use _________ for a general question and _________ to talk about an official investigation.
    a. Inquiry/enquiry
    b. Enquiry/inquiry

Answers: 

  1. a)
  2. b)
  3. a)
  4. b)
  5. a)
  6. b)
  7. a)
  8. b)
  9. a)
  10. b)
Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Sam S.
— ESL Tutor.
Find this post useful? Share it with friends!
Read more
  • How to be polite in English
    study
    How to be polite in English

    Perhaps the most enduring stereotype of the British is that they are extremely polite and never really say what they mean. Continue reading

  • 30 Useful Phrases To Boost Your IELTS Speaking Score
    exams
    30 Useful Phrases To Boost Your IELTS Speaking Score

    In this study guide, you will learn the meaning of 30 collocations and find out how to use them in a sentence. You will see examples of how to use these phrases to talk about familiar topics on the IELTS speaking exam. Check out the exercises at the end to test your understanding! You can also download this guide as a free pdf to use offline. Continue reading

  • How To Score Band 7+ On IELTS Reading
    exams
    How To Score Band 7+ On IELTS Reading

    Need to brush up on your IELTS Reading skills? In this guide, we will show you how to pass this section of IELTS with a band 7+. We’ve included all you need to know about the exam, marking and task types, along with our top tips on exam technique and time management. Check out the bonus IELTS Reading resources at the end to improve your skills at home. Let’s get started! Continue reading

  • How to Score Band 7+ on IELTS General Writing Task 1
    exams
    How to Score Band 7+ on IELTS General Writing Task 1

    In this guide, we will demonstrate how to score higher bands on your IELTS General Writing exam. We will give you key vocabulary, paragraphing tips, sample answers and much more to help you achieve a 7+. Don’t forget to download your free pdf copy of this exam guide to use offline. Let’s get started! Continue reading