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Licence vs. License—Spelling Rules

Updated on December 17, 2020Grammar
  • License is both a noun and a verb in the United States.
  • If you live in any other English-speaking country, you will spell it licence when you use it as a noun and license when you use it as a verb.

There are plenty of things you can’t do without a license—drive a car, fly a plane, be a doctor, or be a fisherman. And because licenses are so important, you might as well learn how to spell them correctly.

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License as a Verb: Spelling and Examples

Like many other words in the English language, license is spelled differently in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world. However, this is not the case when license is used as a verb. The verb form is always spelled the same—license—and it always has the same meaning—to issue a license, or to give permission.

Here are a couple of examples of the word used in American online publications:

In the meantime, Atlanta, Georgia and the state of New York licensed him to fight, so in 1970 he finished off two tune-up opponents to prepare for his showdown with Frazier, who’d won the championship while Ali was sidelined.
The Daily Beast

Earlier this year at CES, we saw the first TVs from Sharp following the announcement that Hisense had licensed the company’s brand name for TVs in the U.S.
Digital Trends

And this is how they spell it in British online publications:

A kindergarten in a region often portrayed as Australia’s gun capital has “licensed” children who want to play with toy firearms.
The Guardian

North Somerset Council, which is responsible for licensing the event, said the Premises Licence was needed because there would be alcohol sales and regulated entertainment at the event.

As you see, there’s no difference in meaning between the two.

License as a Noun: Spelling and Examples

But license can also be used as a noun, which is where the different spellings come into play. In American English, the noun is spelled the same as the verb—license. But in British English, the noun is spelled licence. All the while, the meaning stays the same—permission, a permit, a document that states you are qualified or allowed to do something.

Here’s how they use license in American English:

A Chicago-area woman says she wants to fight for her right to wear a pasta strainer on her head in her driver’s license photo, claiming the item is an expression of her religious beliefs.
Chicago Tribune

Sometimes, licenses are required because employers know the jobs will be at sites across a region, and need employees to be able to get there reliably and on time.
The Atlantic

And try to spot the difference in these examples of British English:

The financial services board revoked the licence for allegedly serious transgressions.

Another 20 banks are in talks with the Bank of England about receiving a licence to launch in Britain, as the wave of new competition in the industry shows no signs of slowing down.
The Telegraph

And to illustrate how other English-speaking countries will spell it licence as a noun, here are examples of the words used in Canadian, Australian, South African, and New Zealand publications. (Notice how the last one shows the differences in spelling from when the word is used as noun to a verb): 

Canada’s telecommunications regulator wrapped up its hearings into CBC’s licence renewal application Thursday, with senior executives responding to concerns about issues ranging from accountability to paid online content.

Crown’s rival, Star Entertainment, has withdrawn its offer for the beleaguered casino giant, concerned it may be stripped of its Melbourne licence.
The Australian

US rapper Rick Ross just revealed that despite having over 100 luxury cars, he does not own a driver’s licence.
The South African

In a written response Auckland Council’s principal specialist alcohol licensing manager, Rob Abbott, said council cannot “cancel alcohol licences” of stores found to be exploiting workers, as such decisions are the responsibility of the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority.
NZ Herald

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