‘ise’ or ‘ice’? The difficulties of spelling ‘practice’

Many Australians struggle to spell ‘practice’ and ‘practise’, and often just guess and hope for the best  (‘licence’ and ‘license’ fall into the same category).

Being told that ‘practice’ is a noun while ‘practise’ is a verb isn’t very helpful, as many Australians don’t have a working understanding of nouns and verbs. Our confusion is compounded by the American spelling and our increasing exposure to US-produced publications. Historically, school wasn’t much help (my school experience included a studied avoidance of anything relating to English grammar) – though thankfully things may now be changing.

We do expect our newspapers to get spelling right and know the difference between nouns and verbs. Readers assume that journalists and their editors know what they are doing. So a mis-spelling in a newspaper becomes a bigger problem than a mis-spelling somewhere else: the newspaper gets held up as an example of how to get it right.

This morning I was confronted with this sentence in Brisbane’s ‘The Courier-Mail’:

‘…was murdered by her ex-partner at cricket practise last year’.

Another practice/practise error that will add to people’s confusion.

Here’s how to do it:

  • If you can add ‘a’ or ‘the’ in front of ‘practice’, it’s a noun – use ‘c’ (as in ‘the cricket practice’)
  • If you can replace ‘practice’ with ‘preparation’, it’s a noun – use ‘c’ (as in ‘at cricket preparation/practice’)
  • If you can replace ‘practise’ with ‘to prepare’, it’s a verb – use ‘s’ (as in ‘to prepare/practise cricket).

And if you’re still confused, use different words in writing – ‘learn’ and ‘prepare’ and ‘try’ will usually keep you out of trouble.