Commonly Confused Words: -ice Nouns vs. -ise Verbs

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In British English, when two words sound similar but one is spelt with a ‘c’ and the other with an ‘s’, it is usually the case that the former is a noun and the latter is a verb. Today we’re looking at four pairs of words that follow this rule and share some example sentences which show how to use each word.


Confusing Words Example sentences What about in American English? Are there any exceptions

Advice vs.

Advice is a noun meaning ‘guidance’ or ‘recommendations’:

  • The doctor’s advice was to rest and drink plenty of water.
  • My mum gives great advice.

Advise is a verb that refers to the ‘act of offering guidance or recommendations’:

  • The doctor advised me to rest and drink plenty of water.
  • The police advised the public to keep an eye on their valuables at all times.
These words have the same meanings in American English.  

Device vs. Devise

A device is an ‘instrument, object, or method that is designed with a specific purpose in mind’:

  • The campsite has a rainwater-collecting device.
  • My smart phone is a very practical device; I can use it to make calls, play games, take photos, and surf the internet.
  • To get marks in our English exam, we need to write about Shakespeare’s use of rhetorical devices such as alliteration, metaphor, and onomatopoeia.

The verb devise refers to the ‘act of planning or inventing something after comprehensive thought’. In legal jargon, it also refers to ‘the act of leaving something to someone in a will’:

  • For A-level Drama, the students were required to devise their own plays.
  • He devised a rainwater-collecting contraption to use on his campsite.
  • To my wife, I give, devise, and bequeath all of my possessions.
These words have the same meanings in American English.

There is one circumstance in which devise is used a noun – when referring to ‘a will disposing of real property’ or ‘a gift of real property by will’:

  • Any devises or bequests must be formally declared in a will.

Licence vs. License

A licence is a ‘permit to own/use/do something or to carry on a trade’:

  • She obtained her driving licence on her eighteenth birthday.
  • Don’t forget to renew your TV licence.
  • You might say he used his artistic licence when adapting the book into a film.

License is the verb that refers to the ‘act of granting a licence’:

  • He shouldn’t have been licensed to drive the bus.
  • The artist won’t license me to quote his lyrics in my script.
In American English license is used as both a noun and verb. While we believe that differentiating between the noun and verb is useful, in British English it is also acceptable to use licence as a verb.

Practice vs. Practise

The word practice is a noun meaning the ‘application of an idea’ or the ‘carrying out of a profession’:

  • He tried to put his new maths skills into practice, but still needed a calculator to work out the final sum.
  • Dr Smith’s practice, in the centre of town, is closed on the weekends.

The word practise is a verb referring to the ‘act of honing an activity or skill’, or the ‘act of carrying out a particular activity habitually’:

  • I practise my spelling for half an hour each day.
  • At church we practise the same rituals each week.
In American English practice is used as both a noun and verb.  


Read our other posts about easy-to-confuse words.

15 Dec 2015
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