–Ice, –Ise, –Ize

Verb endings: a small but tricky point.

If you’re from the USA, the practice (noun) of law is practiced (verb) by lawyers. If you’re from the UK, the practice is practised. Here in Canada, we see both verb forms – but preferred usage (by me, anyway) is to go British.

So, is it admitted to practice or admitted to practise? Either is defensible: the first means admitted to the practice of law, the second permitted to engage in practising. Practice is better in this context, on the grounds the noun is what people probably have in mind (although maybe not in the States).

The practice/practise distinction has the advantage of being consistent with another verb that describes what we do: we provide legal advice, but we advise our clients on the law. (Distressingly, advise is cropping up as a noun, perhaps as a result of the vagaries of spellcheck. It’s just plain wrong.)

The Brits often use –ise for other verbs too, as readers of The Economist will know: realise, rationalise, amortise and the like. The advantage of this over –ize is that you don’t have to remember the small number of verbs that always take the –ise ending (including advertise, devise, surprise*).

But practice is divided even in the UK: the Oxford English Dictionary, the Oxford and Cambridge university presses and The Times all prefer –ize.

Whether you adopt –ise or –ize, do at least get the noun-verb distinction right with practice and practise, advice and advise.

Next tip: get your pronouns right

*Although readers of Jane Austen will know that the spelling of some of these words has changed over time: her characters are surprized not surprised.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


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