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‘Practice’ and ‘practise’ look so very similar, but they mean different things. Annoyingly, they’re pronounced exactly the same way, which makes it hard to remember which word to use for what.

Another reason for confusion is that the UK spelling of these words (which we use here in New Zealand) is different from the American spelling. If you’re using American spelling, the only word you need is ‘practice’. No need to read any further.

Ankle Field Leather Black Textile Anna Boots ‘Practice’ is a noun (a word that names a thing) and ‘practise’ is a verb (a word that names an action). For example:

I go to soccer practice. (This is an event I go to)
I practise soccer. (This is what I do there)

The doctor works at her private practice. (This is the place she works)
She practises medicine. (This is what she does there)

Eating veges before pudding is a common practice. (This is a custom)
My kids hate eating veges but I make them practise. (This is what I make them do)

One way to get your kids used to their veges. Image by Fabrizio MorroiaTrainers Oxford Union Blackout Wharf Timberland R7txqR / CC BY

Here’s a simple trick for remembering which spelling to use:

rice is a thing = for things, use practice

rise is an action = for actions, use practise

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…then we practise making soufflés till they rise up nice and puffy.
Original image by Jules Morgan / CC BY

Good old Oxford Dictionaries lists all the possible uses of these two words:

10 responses to “Spot the difference between practice and practise”

  1. John Lateano says:

    Two suggestions to tackle this question:
    1) Try substituting rehearse or rehearsal into the sentence. One is clearly a verb, the other a noun. Then you’ll know which spelling to use.
    2) Consider advice and advise, thankfully they are pronounced differently, but they can remind us which spelling to use, once we’re sure it’s the verb or noun that’s in use.

  2. Just out of curiosity…….

    I always thought – even after earning an English degree – that the words “offence” and “offense” had different meanings/uses. Imagine my surprise upon looking them up recently that the only difference, apart from the obvious, is their geographical usage! I thought I remembered memorizing different applications for these words at school, and then whilst studying at university. Am I suffering from hypergrammaticism (Haha), or perhaps early-onset dementia? How does everyone else on the forum spell this word? Apparently here in New Zealand it’s with a ‘C’, as opposed to the American ‘S’. Here I was, thinking ‘they’ were two words with different meanings all along.

    Desiree

    • eleanor meecham says:

      Thanks very much for your comment, Desiree. I think you can pat yourself on the back for even spotting the difference between the two spellings! A more common problem is to see two words that look very similar (such as ‘complement’ and ‘compliment’ or ‘desert’ and ‘dessert’) and assume they’re the same word. This can lead to some wonderfully bizarre sentences.

      Anna Field Black Textile Boots Leather Ankle We trudged for hours through the baking hot dessert

      Leather Field Boots Ankle Black Textile Anna Some people like coffee after dinner, but I prefer desert.

      English is full of these annoyingly similar words that are just waiting to trip you up. I still occasionally come across a pair I didn’t know, and I’ve been an editor for years!

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      For some bedtime reading, here’s Oxford Dictionaries list of commonly confused words.

  3. Pieter Maarschalk says:

    Interesting trick! Another trick I was taught many years ago is that as the word “noun” comes before “verb” in the alphabet, so “practice” comes before “practise” alphabetically (and similarly the other words discussed).

    • eleanor meecham says:

      Thanks Peter. That’s a great trick too… as long as you can remember what a noun is and what a verb is! Perfect for the grammar geeks among us.

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  4. Samantha says:

    Thanks for this article – it’s very helpful. I have the same ‘s’ vs ‘c’ issue with licence and license…I always have to have a think before typing the right word. Your trick above will be helpful in making sure i am using the correct word every time – thanks!!

  5. Corinna Lines says:

    I’ve always suggested people think of ‘advice’ and ‘advise’, as the pronunciation is helpful then. Also, if people check their document is using British/Australian English, it won’t impose US spelling. I think this is often the reason it is spelt ‘practice’ almost all the time.

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