The difference between practice & practise

Aug 23, 2011

Two more of the most commonly searched words in the dictionary are 'practice' and 'practise'.

So what is the difference between these words? We offer the following as some advice:

The trick is to remember which is the noun and which is the verb. But there is a solution handed down through generations, learnt at your mother's knee, that should make it a non-problem. The noun 'practice' has another noun in it, namely 'ice'.  The verb 'practise' does not. Easy!

You might ask how we ended up with this difficulty. In the 1400s we had 'practise' as a verb, following the pattern of all such verbs that we gained from French with the ending -iser, which ultimately came from Greek (ending -izein) through Latin. The verb needed a noun which was originally 'practise'.  Thus we retained the same form but allowed an extension in function from verb to noun.  

But then we come to the second half of the 1600s when the first English grammars were written. This was at a time when people were busy recording Latin grammar because its use as an international language was in decline, and so the English grammars were heavily influenced by what was considered to be correct in Latin. In this instance the noun form 'practise' became 'practice' because it was seen to be analogous to other English nouns which derived from Latin nouns ending in -itia, an ending which became -ice in its progress through Old French. Other such nouns are avarice, justice, malice, and notice.

The Americans have kept the spelling that was the norm before the grammar books said that the noun had to be 'practice'. And if there were those who wanted to conform to 'correct' British English usage, Noah Webster routed them with his little spelling book.

Lucky old Americans, hey?

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

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Jeff - June 6, 2016, 10:45 a.m.

What about when it's used as an adjective, e.g. "I'm going to attend a practice session". Or is that considered a compound noun and hence falls under the 'practice as a noun' usage? Certainly 'practice session' looks better than 'practise session', much better now I actually see how wrong that looks, but I'm curious to know why.

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Macquarie Dictionary Admin - June 7, 2016, 11:08 a.m.

Dear Jeff,

Sometimes a noun is used to describe another noun – in these cases the first noun performs the function of an adjective. As the adjective comes from the noun it retains the same spelling.

–adjective 11. of or relating to an attempt which is undertaken merely to develop skill, refresh one's memory, etc.: a practice shot.

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