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The Master of the Small Point – the pedantic mother in Sarah Frances’ novel So Perfect on the Surface – shares one of her favourite small points …

 Once you’ve discovered there are quite a few words in British English with alternative spellings (e.g. focused/focussed, adviser/advisor, judgement/judgment) you may think words like ‘practice’ and ‘licence’ – which you often see written as ‘practise’ and ‘license’ – also have interchangeable spellings.  But that would be wrong (unless the pleasure of belonging to a large, like-minded crowd outweighs this kind of worry). There’s a simple underlying rule that governs the different spellings.   If these words are used as nouns, e.g. ‘he has a licence to kill’ or ‘he has a GP practice’, the second ‘c’ remains a ‘c’.  If they are used as verbs, the second ‘c’ becomes an ‘s’, e.g. ‘you must license your car’; ‘I must practise the piano’.  If you can’t remember which way round the difference is, just think of ‘advice’ (noun) and ‘advise’ (verb) where you can hear the difference.  (Or you could move to the US where both noun and verb of ‘practice’ are spelt ‘practice’, and both noun and verb of ‘licence’ are spelt ‘license’ – but then you’d have to remember which way round these work and you won’t get any help from ‘advise’ and ‘advice’!)  

Sarah

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