Why the Doctor with a Private Practice Practises Privately

practice or practise

Before America came along (?), it was probably quite easy to appreciate the difference between “practice” and “practise”. But given that half the stuff we read these days is in American English – and given that they have a different approach to “practice vs practise” over there – we often find ourselves in a whole big muddle over the words this side of the pond.

If you’re working for a British company or you have British clients, your “But it’s right in America” excuse won’t go down well… so it’s best you just learn the difference.

Here’s what you need to know:

“Practise” = verb (a doing word)

Anytime you’re writing about someone doing something again and again, you use “practise”:

  • “I practise the clarinet five days a week.”
  • “Once I’m out of prison, I plan to practise law.”
  • “He’s practising his cartwheels in preparation for next week’s circus auditions.”
  • “Have you been practising your times tables?”
  • “You really ought to practise what you preach.”

“Practice” = noun (a thing)

When you’re writing about a form of practice that isn’t in the context of “doing” but is instead a “thing” of some sort, it’s “practice”. The noun “practice” can therefore be used in the following ways:

  • “I need a practice session before I perform for the Queen tonight.”
  • “The medical practice is up the stairs and on your left.”
  • “I’m so out of practice, so please don’t ask me to join the team.”
  • “In theory, I’m in charge. In practice, she’s in charge.”
  • “Killing baby ants is a cruel practice that must be stopped immediately.”

 Where it gets confusing…

As a result of these rules, you might think it makes more sense to write “I’ve finished football practise for the day.” After all, practising football is “doing”, right?

Yes: “practising football” is “doing” – but “football practice” is a thing, which means it takes a “c” rather than an “s”. Same goes for everything else: if it can be thought of as a “thing” in any way, it needs a “c”.

How to remember the difference

Here’s an easy trick:

  • Use “to prepare” (or an appropriate variation on the words – such as “to prepare”, “preparing”, and “prepares”) instead of “practise”. If the sentence still makes sense, “practise” is almost certainly the correct spelling. (This trick works because “to prepare”, “preparing” and “prepares” are all verbs – just like “practise”.)
  • Use the word “preparation” instead of “practice”. If the sentence still makes sense, “practice” is almost certainly the correct spelling. (This trick works because “preparation” is also a noun.)

For example…

  • “You need more preparation.” <– Makes sense, so “practice” is the correct word to use: “You need more practice.”
  • “I’ve been preparation my football.” <– Makes no sense.
  • “I’ve been preparing my football.” <– Doesn’t make sense, as such, but the sentence flows as you’d expect it to. “Practise” is therefore the correct word to use: “I’ve been practising” my football.”

While this trick doesn’t always work (“The medical preparation” makes no more sense than “The medical preparing”), it’s useful for instances that are more likely to be confusing.

And in the USA?

They have it easy in the US: they just use “practice” for all situations. Easy but boring, we hope you’ll agree.