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The difference between licence & license

Mar 26, 2013

The pair licence/license are often confused. Licence is the noun and license is the verb.

You can remember this by:

(a) lining them up beside advice/advise where the pronunciations are different and so there is no confusion, or
(b) remember that 'ice' is a noun and therefore the words with '-ice' at the end are also nouns. This works for the nouns 'advice' and 'practice', but with 'licence' you look for the shortened '-ce' at the end for the noun. 

If we look at the etymology of the word we go back through French to Latin. In French and other Romance languages the spelling is with -c-, drawn from the Latin licere meaning 'to allow'.  

In English both noun and verb should be spelled with a -c-. But in English advice and advise (which have separate etymological paths) had already set up the idea of a rule where the noun took -c- and the verb took -s-, and so practice/practise, and prophecy/prophesy followed. And so it seemed clear that licence/license should go down that path too.

The Americans then confused the issue by deciding that they would opt for -s- in both noun and verb as being a simpler solution.

We struggle on with one spelling for the noun and the other for the verb.

Good luck with it!

Want some help with other common confusables? Check out our other comparison blogs

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