Wrong Word Wednesday #67

Every week I demonstrate an example of poor English where a different word is used from the word intended. Usually, this creates a grammatically incorrect sentence and sometimes it sounds amusing, other times it sounds embarrassing. Unfortunately, the mistake is so pervasive that we all do it and such errors are usually made by those who should know better – journalists working for national or global media outlets such as newspapers and television.

Licence / License

If you speak or otherwise communicate in American English, this WWW is not for you, though you may be interested to know the subtle difference between the two words in British English. If you speak British English (Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc) then you could have been using the wrong one all these years.

Licence is a noun. A driver’s licence is a form of ID I can use to prove I am who I am, and that I am legally permitted to drive. “You were doing 40 in a 30 zone. May I see your driver’s licence and insurance documents please sir?”

License is a verb which refers to permission. It is not an actual thing. “this restaurant is licensed to serve alcohol”. If worded differently, they would use the other version “this restaurant has a licence to serve alcohol and is therefore licensed to do so.”



4 thoughts on “Wrong Word Wednesday #67

  1. cjmoseley

    Licence is an accepted spelling of the verb in the UK according to Oxford, and although I can’t recall ever seeing licencing used, that too is considered a ‘non-standard’ variant.

    Basically this is becoming a US/UK division rather than a noun/verb one…

    1. Ah sorry, perhaps I didn’t make that clear enough in the opening sentence. There are of course always exceptions in this wonderful language

      1. livingonchi

        Fascinating. I didn’t know British English distinguished between license (verb) and licence (noun).

  2. cjmoseley

    No, I don’t think I made my point very well. I don’t think this is actually just a case of wrong word. I think the spelling is actually mutating.
    Americans always use license (because Webster bringing a half hearted attempt at phonetic spelling to English – not sure what happened to that first ‘c’ ).
    Because of the Internet British people have started to see the ‘s’ and think American spelling, so reactionarily they spell it, regardless of context with a ‘c’. A bit like the way the Greek derived -ize ending was replaced with the French -ise ending in the UK because of the idea it was an Americanism (to the point about 3/5 Brits use -ise).

    I guess the question is, when does that become the correct practise? Is it when most people use it that way? If so, my guess is we’re already close to (if not beyond) being on the archaic minority side of the question as to whether there’s a different spelling for a noun than a verb (and will practice go the same way?).

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