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Word Play – which word do you use?

Regularly posted Word Play tips will look at words that are often used incorrectly.

Word Play Tip #3: Licence or license?

As with practice/practise, Australian and British English distinguish between this word as a noun (licence) or a verb (license), while US English uses the one spelling (license) for all instances. It is much easier to select which licence/license to use than it is with practice/practise, as the noun is far more commonly used.

A ‘licence’ is a tangible thing: a driver’s licence, a fishing licence, a licence plate (on a car), or a business licence. A licence grants you formal permission to do something, often by an authority such as a government or a statutory body. You can have ‘licences’ (plural; more than one licence) or ‘licence’s’ (possessive; the licence’s expiry date is 30 June), but you cannot have ‘licencing’ or ‘licenced’. They are verbs and so for those usages, you ALWAYS need ‘licensing’ or ‘licensed’.

‘Licence’ is also about the freedom to act: a licence to print money, poetic licence, or the footballer was given licence to roam the forward line.

You will be hard-pressed to find a usage for ‘license’ beyond the plain form (the infinitive) ‘to license’; to license someone means to grant them a licence to do something – “The Medical Board examines and licenses doctors.” Or “I will license you to drive a car.” A retail store is licensed to sell alcohol, i.e. it has a licence from a licensing authority (such as the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation).

Word Play Tip #2: Practice or practise?

Australian and British English distinguish between usage of this word as a noun (practice) or a verb (practise). As a noun, ‘practice’ is a tangible thing, like a table is a tangible thing; for example you visit your doctor at his/her medical practice and go to football practice. A process, a habit or a routine (or similar) could be standard practice, world’s best practice, usual practice or customary practice.

As a verb, ‘practise’ is about activity that attaches to a subject (e.g. I, He, They). “I practise my ball skills at football practice.” “My mother practises witchcraft in her spare time.” “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practise, practise, practise!”


  • How to remember the noun/verb versions? ‘Ice’ is a thing, a noun, so ‘practice’ is the noun.
  • People practise things, often to get better at them (sports, skills).
  • People practise activities associated with a custom, craft, profession or religion (“My doctor practises Chinese medicine”, “John is a practising Muslim.”)
  • It is ALWAYS practising or practised, NEVER practicing or practiced.
  • ‘Practice’ as a noun can have a plural (“The doctor owns three medical practices”, “This business has several customary practices.”)
  • The use of ‘practise’ or ‘practises’ is determined by the number of people/things in the subject of the sentence – one or more than one: “John [singular subject] practises his guitar skills every day” or “Wendy and Anne [more than one in subject] practise singing together twice a week.”
  • US English uses ‘practice’ in all instances, so Carnegie Hall is reached through “Practice, practice, practice.” (Also practiced, practicing.)

Word Play Tip #1: Issue or edition?

In publications, an ‘issue’ is a discrete output, say, the January issue of a magazine. An ‘edition’ is when that January issue comes out in two or more versions, such as an Australian edition and a US edition. Daily newspapers generally come out in editions; the newspaper published on 10 January 2018 may have come out in first, second and third editions (or more), with content changes between each one. (Editions are used to make corrections or to update breaking news stories without halting production or disrupting distribution.)

Books also can be published in editions (you may see 2nd edition, 3rd edition on the imprint page), which can denote significant content changes over the earlier edition or a new print run with updated cover art.

There is no snooze button on a cat who wants breakfast.


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‘City of Casey backs Team 11 with $23.8m’, The Age, 13 May 2018, Sports section, page 2. The team was bidding to secure a licence, not a license.

‘Banks gag staff to bury the toxic truth’, The Age, 8 February 2018, page 21. The royal commission was shining a spotlight on hidden practices, not hidden practises.

‘World’s largest plane moves closer to take-off’, The Age, 13 March 2018, page 9. The plane practised rolling down the runway, not practiced. This was almost certainly US wire copy; in the US, ‘practice/practiced/ practicing’ is the spelling for all usages.