Come on. They’re only one vowel different. And heck, the vowel sounds are similar! These two words share a very deep, dark secret (well, “dark” as far as the English language goes), so keep reading to find out how these two devious words work!
Ready for the secret?
I hate to burst someone’s bubble, but enquire and inquire are the same word. “NO WAY!” Yeah, way. They’re just alternate spellings. To be exact, enquire is typically British and inquire is typically American. However, there is a “preferred,” method of using them. That does not mean they’re not interchangeable, because they are. Bear in mind, if you have a grammar junkie for a professor, you might want to follow these traditional methods.
The traditional use of enquire is for asking something. This goes for enquiry too. For example, “I enquired her name.” This would mean I asked her what her name was. An example with enquiry is “The first enquiry President Obama received was what he would do in office the first 100 days.” This could be the first question a reporter asks, etc.
Inquire and inquiry are typically used for a formal investigation (like on TV!). For example, “The police inquired into the accident.” This would mean they launched an investigation. You’ll see this word more often with lawyers, law enforcement, government etc.
Although inquire is used for formal investigations, it’s the predominant form of the word in the US. As such, if you use inquire in the sense of asking a question, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Those who can distinguish the difference may get some brownie points though! Good luck!
P.S. And be sure not to mix these words up with acquire, which means “to come in possession of” or to own!