What a great language we have. It sometimes feels as though some rascally being set out to make certain things just as complex as they possibly could. And, boy, did they succeed?
Today we are discussing whether is should be a “c” or an “s” in words like “license”, “practise”, etc. Do you know? Or do you just use whichever one, all the time? If you’re American, then it’s super easy just use an “s”. Using British English? Think again.
Perhaps you just know instinctively which one you should use. I know I don’t. I have to think about it…ALL the time.
Ironically, or maybe not, the heading of this post is, in my opinion, the best and easiest way to work out which you should use. Advice is a noun, a thing that you give, whether it’s wanted or not! Advise is a verb and is the act of giving it. And, miracle upon miracles, they are pronounced differently, making the job of deciding for those other lovely words much more straightforward.
So “practise” is playing the piano over and over again to get it right, “practice” is the dreaded dentist or doctor. “License” is allowing someone to own a dog or drive, “licence” is the actual bit of paper that proves you can.
“Prophecy” and “prophesy” are great ones too. Apart from both being words that, if you look at them for too long, look like they’re spelled wrong, they are also pronounced differently. (I admit I did not know this until very recently. I would have read them both the same.) But the “s” verb has a “sigh” on the end when pronounced. If you knew this, then this would help you choose your consonant. (Just not me!) And don’t forget “device” and “devise”.
It is possible that “license” and “licence” were pronounced differently at one time, and the same with “practise” and practice”. If you want to know the etymology, there are hundreds of websites to tell you just that. I’m here to play around with words, and to help you choose the right one.
There are many words that simply don’t have identity issues, they are spelt one way, and one way only. But again, history may prove that, these too, were once spelt differently depending on their use. Words like: promise, release, reverse, incense, sentence, discourse, divorce, advance, silence, notice…
So, if you want to devise a device to release your potential to practise your prophecy with your promised licence advancing your career without giving notice… get a proofreader!