When you spend a lot of time editing (and it could be books, essays, articles, blog pieces, homework, anything really) you start to notice the same mistakes popping up again and again. In fact, many editors have a ‘cheat sheet’ of common words or phrases to search for at the start of an edit (using a search allows them to catch all the common mistakes and allows them to focus on other changes as they do the line-by-line edit).
One repeat offender is the word ‘practice’. Or should that be ‘practise’? Well, like so much in the English language, the answer to that depends…
First up, let’s get American English out of the way. If you are using American English, you can spell it with a ‘c’ no matter the context. Easy.
British or International English
For British and International English, practice with a ‘c’ is only used for the noun version of the word. These will be times when you are referring to the practice as a thing, rather than an action. So this would be examples like:
- A doctor’s practice
- Football practice
- Telling someone they need more practice
- We made a practice of doing it every day
- You should put her ideas into practice
If you are using the word ‘practise’ to mean the action of doing practice (it is the verb in the sentence), then you would use the ‘s’ version. Examples of this would be:
- With this workbook, you can practise your exams
- He practises netball every day
- You won’t get better, if you won’t practise
- They practise their religion together
It is not a perfect test but, sometimes, you can check if you are using the correct word by substituting in the word ‘advice’ (noun) or ‘advise (verb). This is spelt this way for both American and International English and, unlike practice/practise, the two versions actually sound different. This means you can sound out which version is correct. If we try this in some of our examples:
A doctor’s advise / A doctor’s advice
- The first version (with an ‘s’) does not make sense, so you know it would be ‘practice’.
Telling someone they need more advise / Telling someone they need more advice
- Again, the ‘s’ version does not make sense, so the correct spelling would be ‘practice’.
They advise their religion together / They advice their religion together
- Here the second sentence does not work with the ‘c’ version, so you know that ‘practise’ is correct.
With this workbook, you can advise your exams / With this workbook, you can advice your exams
- The sentence does not make the best sense, but the gist is enough to show that ‘advice’ is wrong. Like we said, it’s not a perfect test!
Hopefully, this has cleared up some of the mystery around ‘practise’ and ‘practice’. But if you struggle to remember the rule off the top of your head, do not panic. It is enough to know that a word is a difficult one, so you notice it as a tricky one when you are checking through and can look it up when you see it. The English language is a tricky one to master and is full of rules, contradictions and things that ‘don’t seem to make sense but that’s the way they are anyway’!