Practise and practice. What's the difference?


Here's a recipe for schizophrenia:  be an Australian author, who for preference writes in UK English, but who is published mostly in the US.  I'm well on the way to becoming a walking encyclopaedia of English dialect differences.  So let me share some of the madness with practise vs practice.

Practice with a C and practise with an S are two different parts of exactly the same word.

Practice is a noun.  In every English speaking country in the world, with one exception, practice is only ever a noun.  In that one other country, practice is also a verb.

Everywhere else, practise is always the verb.  Hence:

The doctor practises medicine at his practice. 

The US lost the S word.  So in the US, the doctor practices medicine at his practice.  Which to my eye looks horribly wrong.

Just to make it more fun, practise also used to mean to play a trick on someone.

The English practice originates from the Old French practiser, so that the 's' version is the original, and in medical Latin is spelt with a 'z'.  It also appears in Greek as praktike.  (It's also in Esperanto as praktike!)  Since it's in both Latin and Greek, that makes it a very old Indo-European word.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives practice as interchangeable these days, thanks to the US practice of spelling practise as practice.  (Confused yet?)

I checked Merriam-Webster's, and it says, to my astonishment, that practise remains acceptable usage in some parts of the US.  It doesn't say where, but I guess they mean New England.  It also gives practise as meaning to play a joke, in US usage!


15 comments:

Lexi said...

I've finally cracked this one, after having to check every time I wrote it.

PractICE is the noun, as it has a noun (ice) at the end. PractISe is the verb, with a verb (is) at the end.

Botanist said...

I'm hitting this schizophrenia too, having grown up in the UK but now trying to write for the American market.

I am doubly confused these days because I now live in Canada where either flavor (or flavour) is usually acceptable and everyone's confused as to what is "correct".

Gary Corby said...

Hi Lexi, that's a good system!

Forgot to add that in German, it's praktizieren. Halfway between the Latin and the Greek.

Hi Botanist, yes, it's a maze of twisty little passages. A good place to check on real usage if you're not sure is twitter. When I did the copyedits for Pericles Commission, my twitter-friends saved me a dozen times over on US usage.

Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

Having grown up in the UK and living in the US for the last 20 years, I have NO STINKING IDEA how I spell things anymore! Seriously, if you were to ask me which I use, I would have to stop and think about it. I think US usage has, generally speaking, crept into my bloodstream without conscious effort on my part. So, with regard to this word, what's my practice? Do I practise or practice? Practise looks odd to me now, like hearing an Englishman's voice in a restaurant. So I use practice for both noun and verb. Since I'm living here, adopting the US spelling saves the hassle of explaining why I might choose a different version. Life's too short.

Gary Corby said...

Well ultimately, if a book sells, the copy editor's going to save your life by cleaning up the spelling and localisation issues. It's really a matter of whether the ms looks professional. But I've yet to meet an author who didn't care about getting these little things right. (And don't get me started on how the US treats strong verbs...actually, no...that would make a good blog post...hmm)

DeadlyAccurate said...

And by the time I finished reading this post, both words started looking funny. :-)

Gary Corby said...

Hi Deadly, yes, I was thinking the same thing! It started to look better with the k.

Lynda R Young said...

I'm also an Aussie author who writes a lot for the US market and my goodness I get mixed up a lot ;)

Gary Corby said...

We should start one of those support groups, Lynda. "My name's Gary, and I have a problem with spelling practise, practice, pratize...whatever."

SundaySoup said...

My name is Joelle and my trouble is with traveling. Or is it travelling? You see...in the US, where I'm from and where I publish, it's with one "l", but up here in Canada, where I live, they use two. And my general rule of thumb now that I live here is American spelling in my writing, Canadian spelling for everything else, including my blog & tweets. Now...I can switch between flavour and flavor, no problem because if someone in the US reads flavour on my blog, they're going to know it's intentional. But I'm sorry, travelling just looks to Americans like I don't know how to spell the word! And vice versa. Ack!

Gary Corby said...

Hi Joelle!

The OED, which is the One True Dictionary, gives travelling as the main version, but says traveling is fine, no doubt in sympathy with our American cousins. Google's editor marks traveling as a spelling error!

Jay Bendt said...

I think my brain broke by the end of this post. I live in America, but was born and raised in the Caribbean, and (to my mother's dismay) read and write everything in English, while I talk to my family in Spanish. Juggling two languages is already hard enough, and now let's add in practice and practise - yep, there goes my sanity!

Thanks for posting this. I'll get the hang of it... someday.

Gary Corby said...

I'm impressed, Jay, if you can do all that!

Jay Bendt said...

Gary, it's not as impressive as it sounds. Sometimes it turns out that I forget the words in both languages, so I look like a gaping fish in the middle of a conversation while I desperately try to remember the words mid-sentence!

And I certainly can't do it all at once ;)