Practice vs. practise

In the main varieties of English from outside North America, practice is the noun, and practise is the verb. For instance, we would say that a doctor with a private practice practises privately. There is no such distinction in American English, where practice is both a noun and a verb, and practise is not used at all. Canadian English also favors practise as the verb, but practice appears with relative frequency as a verb (about a third as often as practise).

The verb practise is inflected practised, practising, and practises. Even outside the U.S., the s becomes a c in the derivative adjective practicable, where practicable means capable of being put into practice. C is likewise used in the much rarer adjective practiceable (ignore spell check on this one), which means capable of being practiced (i.e., such as a piano song or a football maneuver). Practisable used to appear for this latter sense, but we find almost no examples of its use from after the early 20th century.

This ngram graphs the use of practiced and practised in American books published between 1800 and 2019. It suggests that the verb practise has been in decline since the 19th century and is only rarely used now.

Practiced Vs Practised American English

Examples

Outside North America

In golf, Ben Hogan, one of the game’s greats, was known to practise more than any of his contemporaries and is said to have “invented practice”. [Independent]

We try to look at making practice more efficient, ways of practising more under pressure … [The Sun]

Others escaped to the outer edges of Australian territory, into Papua New Guinea or Antarctica, where they were allowed to practise medicine. [Sydney Morning Herald]

U.S.

The natural grass practice fields behind Halas Hall have been ripped up and a crew is working to install new surfaces right now. [Chicago Tribune]

Yet Wall Street, for its first 200 years, remained a WASP preserve, where prejudice was practiced openly. [Daily Beast]

We’re used to seeing Raylan as a clear-thinking man of action, practicing Old West-style justice in a contemporary setting. [AV Club]

27 thoughts on “Practice vs. practise”

  1. So, in American English, ‘practice’ is used interchangeably as both noun and verb, as is ‘licence’. I guess there’s a bit of internal logic there. In British or Australian English it’s a simple /c/ for noun, /s/ for verb rule: She practised the piano every day.’ ‘My driver’s licence has expired.’ But what about ‘advice’ and ‘advise’, or ‘prophecy’ and ‘prophesy’, where the /c/ for noun, /s/ for verb rule is still effectively used, even in the US. Where is the consistency there?

    Reply
    • …I feel as if the Americans have introduced more inconsistency than is often implied with US English. ‘We’re more consistent!’ No you’re not, you’ve introduced more irregularity with the lack of distinction between practise the verb and practice the noun (and the same goes for licence).

      Reply
      • Who says that such lack of distinction results in any irregularity? It certainly doesn’t from the American perspective. Your statement seems to imply that only one country speaks the proper version of the language, and all other countries use defective versions.

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        • Agreed. Language is not static. Regardless of what we believe to be correct and proper, tens or hundreds of years ago there were different practices and rules in place. In the future, people will look at our language usage and consider us barbaric compared to their daily language “rules”.

          Reply
    • For advice/advise, the noun and verb are pronounced differently. The verb has the /z/ sound so using -ise is the only way that makes sense. For practice, the noun and verb are pronounced the same and both have the /s/ sound so -ice works fine in both cases. Seems consistent to me.

      Reply
  2. I am a 32 year old Canadian and I have never, ever seen “practise” used until last week and I considered it horrible grammar. However, given the source, an info booklet published by the local library, I decided to look it up.

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    • Not horrible ‘grammar’ but a horrible way to spell it…but your comment is full of grammatical errors. So don’t be a grammar Nazi and try writing in active voice. (angel)

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  3. This was very helpful. But most Americans do not know this due to the fact that they use the word ‘practice’ as a noun and verb.

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  4. Great advice! Now please help me, does the following make sense: “these are transformational times in terms of digital technology and workplace practises”??? Or should it be with a c?

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  5. Surely ‘Practising surgeon’ would be corect globally then? My (Microsoft USA) Word spell-check is trying to tell me ‘Practicing’ for the UK language option. It doesnt look right to me because it’s from the verb form. Is this an anomaly?

    Reply

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