Is it 'licence' or 'license'?

When to use license and license

Two words. One tizz.

Knowing when to use licence and license can get us in quite the tangle.

It’s like choosing between practice or practise. And any resemblance between this blog post and that one is not remotely coincidental. I copied a whopping chunk of it.

So is it licence or license? I’ve got three tips to help you work out which is the right one to use.

The USA way

In the States, things are easier. They only use one spelling: license. They go with the S.

Annoyingly, this is the opposite way to the one word they use for practice. Yep, that’s a C. Urgh.

What’s the difference between 'licence' & 'license'?

On to UK English and the basics. So we’re all at the same place.

Licence is a noun. A noun is a naming word.
License is a verb. A verb is a doing word.

Because UK English is an awkward bugger at times, we can have the noun and the verb in one sentence. So both the C and the S crop up…

Bernadette wasn’t licensing her TV to watch Strictly even though you need a TV licence.

A bit of advice

Licence and license are spelled differently but the final /s/ sound is the same.

We can swap in advice/advise with our tricky pair.

This new pair are pronounced differently to each other though, which is how we know if we’re using the right spelling or not.

Advice has a C that sounds like an /s/. And advise has an S that sounds like a /z/.

The new sentences we make with our swapped-in words won’t necessarily make sense. That’s fine. We want to know if they sound correct.

NOUN: licence
Barbara was chuffed about getting her driving licence/advice. That Fiat Uno won’t drive itself.
Incorrect: Barbara was chuffed about getting driving license/advise.

VERB: license
Barbara and Bernadette co-license/advise the Dog & Duck down the road.
Incorrect: Barbara and Bernadette co-licence/advice the Dog & Duck down the road.

Do you hear how they sound ‘wrong’ in the incorrect versions? If not, I’ve another tip to help you out.


Swap licence for another noun:

Bernadette didn’t need a TV licence to watch The L Word on Netflix.*
Bernadette didn’t need a TV permit to watch The L Word on Netflix.

Swap license for another verb:

The restaurant for their date was licensed to sell booze.
The restaurant for their date was allowed to sell booze.

That’s that then.

If ‘that’ and ‘which’ get you in knots, I’ve unravelled them for you too.

*The L Word might not be on Netflix. This is for demonstrative purposes only. Sorry. I'd lend you the box set but I sold it years ago when I needed quick cash. Go watch Xena Warrior Princess. For the subtext.