Commonly Confused Words: ‘Practice’ and ‘Practise’
The number of homophones in the English language is one of the reasons English is such a complex language. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings.
This series aims to explain the difference between a few of the most commonly confused words in academic writing. I’ll even share some of my tricks for remembering the difference between them. By the end of this article, you should know the difference between ‘practice’ and ‘practise’.
For my definitions, I’ve used the Macquarie Dictionary: the authority on Australian English spelling. Practice/practise is one of the easiest homophone pairs to confuse and I still find myself having to double check my own writing to ensure I’ve used the right spelling.
‘Practice’ is a noun. (You might remember a noun is a person, place or thing.) The Macquarie Dictionary defines ‘practice’ as a ‘habitual or customary performance’ and the ‘exercise of a profession or occupation’.
In the examples, ‘She manages a Law practice’ and ‘it’s common practice’, practice is a noun (or thing).
It’s also used as an adjective, such as in ‘Jane took a practice shot.’
On the other hand, ‘practise’ is a verb or doing word. You could practise guitar; you could be practising examination techniques. The Macquarie Dictionary defines ‘practise’ as ‘to carry out, perform, or do habitually’ and ‘to perform or do repeatedly in order to acquire a skill or proficiency’.
This ‘practise’ is an action.
Spelling Tricks for ‘Practice’ and ‘Practise’
You might think the definitions sound similar, but the main thing that differentiates the terms is that ‘practise’ is a verb (an action) and ‘practice’ is a noun (a thing). I remember the difference in their spelling with my little trick: ‘ice’ is a noun, therefore ‘practice’ is the noun.
To check you’ve used the right spelling in the right context, consider substituting ‘practise’ (the verb) with other verbs and ‘practice’ (the noun) with other nouns.
In the sentence, ‘Toby wants to practise his violin this afternoon’, ‘practise’ could be substituted with other verbs, such as ‘play’ or ‘perform’, and the sentence makes sense.
In the examples that follow, we know that ‘practice’ should be used because substituting a verb doesn’t work as it did with the previous example:
‘He runs a large practice.’ (‘Practice’ is a noun here; substituting a verb, such as ‘perform’, doesn’t make sense.)
‘Please complete this practice examination paper.’ (‘Practice’ is an adjective here and using a verb in its place makes no sense. The verb in this example is ‘complete’. You could reword this sentence to ‘Please practise your examination technique with this sample paper’ if you wanted to use ‘practise’.)
We hope this gives you the confidence to use practice and practise correctly. In our next article, ‘Commonly Confused Words: ‘There’, ‘Their’ and ‘They’re’, we’ll discuss some more commonly confused words.