Q&A: Practice or practise? Licence or license?

Each week, we take a look at a common confusions and ambiguities in the English language (that gives us about a century’s worth of material!) – making things easier through the power of friendly conversation. This week, does “practise” or “practice” make perfect?
 
Q: Hi there Australian Writers’ Centre, I have a fairly open-and-shut case this week. It’s one that I’m never sure about. Can you help?

A: We certainly hope so. What seems to be the trouble?

Q: It’s the word “practice”. Or is it “practise”? I can’t work it out. Do Americans use one option and do we use the other? Help!
A: You’ll be pleased to know that this is one that confuses a lot of people.

Q: Why would that please me? That’s terrible. In fact, I’m thinking of taking out a restraining order on the English language. It’s starting to mess with my head.
A: Okay, well before you start filling out forms and putting up closed circuit cameras, allow us to explain how this one works.

Q: Yes please.
A: There is an American component, but that’s simply that they ONLY use “practice” – no exception. Show them “practise” and it would be like talking in celsius or the metric system.

Q: That’s right, they’ve got the quarter pounder. They wouldn’t know what the metric system is.
A: Exactly. (Nice Pulp Fiction reference too by the way.) However, for the rest of us, we use BOTH and it’s a question of usage. You can “practise” playing the saxophone or you can visit a doctor’s “practice”. One is a verb and the other a noun.

Q: All the saxophones were taken when I wanted to learn an instrument at school, so I had to learn the clarinet.
A: Okay then, so you would have “practised” the clarinet at school.

Q: Well, I didn’t really practise. Was too busy skipping class with my mates.
A: That doesn’t surprise us in the slightest. So, anyway, despite the fact you won’t be playing for an orchestra any time soon, that’s how the whole verb/noun combo works with “practise” and “practice”.

Q: Seems easy enough. But also easy to confuse – especially when Mr Red Squigglyline is bypassing both options because they’re both actually correct spellings.
A: That is true. So maybe think of C for clinic. You practiSe your tennis swing. But if you got tennis elbow, you’d go to a medical practice.

Q: And if the doctor accidentally removed your spleen instead of treating your elbow, you’d probably end up at a legal practice?
A: Yes, sure.

Q: Well I don’t play tennis. Can it work for Angry Birds?

A: What do you think? In fact, anything you can practise (verb) is the S. Anything that is a thing (noun) is the C. So you would attend cricket practice and while there, you’d practise your batting.

Q: I don’t play cricket either.
A: Of course you don’t…

Q: So what if you said to someone “I’m a little out of practise/practice”? Which one is it?
A: Actually a good question. In this context, it’s a noun ­– the concept of practice. So you’d say “practice makes perfect” or “I’m out of practice”.

Q: So does the word license/licence work the same way? Please tell me it does. Please tell me it does. Please tell me it does…
A: It does! Well for us anyway, noun = C, verb = S. Oddly, the Americans (who you may remember only use “practice”) have flipped sides and this time only use “license” – the S version – for both nouns and verbs.

Q: So in America I’m “licensed to drive with my license”, but outside US I’m “licensed to drive with my licence”?
A: That’s it!

Q: So, what about 007 James Bond? What kind of licence/license does he have to kill?
A: He’s British, so the name of the 1989 film was officially “Licence to Kill”. However, in general writing Americans have no choice but to give him a “license” to kill.

Q: Timothy Dalton. Ugh. So, any other words like these?
A: Another is advise/advice – however the soft “z” sound on “advise” means they’re never confused. But, if you need another way to remember which is the C and which is the S on those other words that DO sound alike, think of “advice” (noun) and “advise” (verb) and you can’t go wrong.

Q: Great advice! Well, thanks for the explanation. I’ve gotta run; I’m late for my flashmob practice. This week we’re practising how to walk off afterwards like nothing happened, instantly killing any applause people are trying to give us.
A: Yes, quite. And we’re off to find somewhere that’s fully licensed.

Want to be first to read our quirky Q&A spots? Then sign up to our super-fun weekly newsletter!

Browse posts by category
Browse posts by category

Courses starting soon

About us

The Australian Writers’ Centre offers courses in creative writing, copywriting, freelance writing, business writing and much more. Our practical and industry-proven courses will help you gain confidence and meet your goals faster!

Contact us

Phone: (02) 9929 0088 Email: [email protected] Head office: Suite 3, 55 Lavender Street, Milsons Point NSW 2061

SALE ON NOW: Up to 40% off VIEW COURSES

Back to top ↑
×

Nice one! You've added this to your cart