From Middle English enquery, from the Old French verb enquerre, from Latin inquīrō, composed of in- (“in, at, on; into”) + quaerō (“I seek, look for”), of uncertain origin, but possibly from Proto-Italic *kʷaizeō, from Proto-Indo-European *kʷeh₂- (“to acquire”). The alternative form inquiry was subsequently respelled to conform to the original Latin spelling, as opposed to the Old French spelling.
- (Britain, Australia, New Zealand) A question.
- Search for truth, information or knowledge.
According to Fowler's Modern English Usage (1926), inquiry should be used in relation to a formal inquest, and enquiry to the act of questioning. Many (though not all) British writers maintain this distinction; the Oxford English Dictionary, in its entry not updated since 1900, lists inquiry and enquiry as equal alternatives, in that order. Some British dictionaries, such as Chambers 21st Century Dictionary , present the two spellings as interchangeable variants in the general sense, but prefer inquiry for the "formal inquest" sense. In Australian English, inquiry represents a formal inquest (such as a government investigation) while enquiry is used in the act of questioning (eg: the customer enquired about the status of his loan application). Both spellings are current in Canadian English, where enquiry is often associated with scholarly or intellectual research. (See Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, p. 282.)
American English usually uses inquiry.