How to Spell License: What to Watch for Wednesday #4

The text "What to Watch for Wednesday" in all caps above a logo of a magnifying glass with a checkmark in it, followed by "Tip of the Week: license" and the M. Neely Proofreading logo

Welcome to another edition of What to Watch for Wednesday, a weekly feature where I go over common issues I see when I’m proofreading or wandering through the wilds of the internet. These may be usage errors, common grammar issues, common spelling issues, or anything else along those lines. If you have an issue that you’d like to see highlighted and explained, drop me a line!

You know what I’m doing here, folks? I am calling myself out. There is a word that was the bane of my existence for years, that stuck in my craw, that never seemed to come out of my brain correctly when I needed to use it.

That word? License.

Or Lisence? Lisense? Licence?

My old trouble with this tricky lil word took me to the wilds of Google to get an idea of what exactly the deal is with “license.” I mean, it doesn’t seem all that difficult to me now, and yet, I remember that it eluded me for a long time. License. Or was it lisence? Lisense? Licence?

To all of the people in the audience insisting, “It’s licence!” I am a speaker of Weirdo English—a.k.a. American English. And because American English just has to do things in its own way, it’s license over here in the States.

But that also means there is a legitimate reason for license to be a troublesome trickster! Vindication! My trouble spelling it isn’t unusual at all!

License and Licence

“License” can be a noun or a verb. It generally means a permit for something, e.g. a driver’s license, or to issue a permit for something.

“Licence” is a noun. It generally means a permit for something, e.g. a driver’s license.

In American English, you use “license” for everything. In U.K. English, and other variants, you use “licence” as a noun and “license” as a verb, apparently. (I’m sure my very dear friend from the U.K. will correct me if I’m wrong. 😁)

How do you use it correctly?

Let’s let our pal Bobzo the Example Guy take care of this problem, as usual, shall we? He likes books. Maybe he is well-read enough to illustrate the difference.


  • Bobzo doesn’t care very much for new experiences. It took years for him to get his driver’s license. While his friends in high school were champing at the bit to get their license and their wheels and conquer the road, Bobzo just wanted more library cards.
  • Bobzo is kind of suspicious of his doctor. The guy is far too chipper. Is he truly licensed to practice medicine? Bobzo thinks he should look into that before his next checkup. If Dr. Man isn’t licensed, Bobzo will…do nothing, actually. He’s not that kind of patient.


  • In Bobzo’s opinion, Frank seemed to think that being a vampire gave him licence to do whatever he wanted.
  • Getting a driver’s licence was quite tricky when you were as old as Frank’s sire. Luckily, Jane had Frank to drive her around.

How can you remember it?

If memory tricks are your thing, here are a few:

  • If you’re in the States or using license as a verb, remember that having a licenSe or being licenSed for something is a Special privilege. The United StateS likes its version of English to be Special, too.
  • If you’re in an area that uses licence, having a licenCe to do something awesome is pretty Cool, no?
  • What about avoiding lisense or lisence? Lisense doesn’t make any sense, and the presence of -sence in lisence is the quintessence of misspelling.

License to, er, license?

A useful word. A tricky word. A word with two spellings in two dialects of this hodgepodge of a language called English. Whether you use license or licence in your part of the world, I hope you have a better idea of how to spell it now.

And maybe this will make my fingers stop trying to type “lisense.”

Which version do you use where you are: license or licence? Is it a tricky word for you, too? Tell me in the comments below! Try to use it in a sentence, too, if it gives you trouble, and show me the results!

I hope Bobzo, Frank, and I have helped you this week. Please, do come back next Wednesday for another edition of What to Watch for Wednesday. And if you need some extra help from a sharp-eyed word nerd, hit me up for a free sample edit or hire me to proofread for you.

See you next time!

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