Licence or License?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Licence" and "License"?

The Quick Answer

  • If you're American, use "license."
  • If you're British, use "licence" for the noun (i.e., papers, a permit) but "license" for the verb (i.e., to allow, to give permission).
"Licence" and "license" sound identical, but they are used differently if you're following UK writing conventions. If you're following US conventions, you can ignore "licence."

UK Convention

In the UK, use "licence" when you mean "official papers," but use "license" when you mean "to allow."
  • I have a licence. I am licensed to drive. correct tick (small British flag)
  • (In the UK, "licence" means "official papers," and "license" means "to allow." So, "licensed" means "allowed.")

US Convention

In the US, use "license" for "official papers" and "to allow."
  • I have a license. I am licensed to drive. correct tick (small American flag)
  • (In the US, "license" means "official papers" and "to allow." So, "licensed" means "allowed." In other word, "licence" (with a c) does not exist in American English.)
licence license

More Examples with "Licence" and "License"

Example Sentencesmall British flagsmall American flag
Do you have a license?wrong crosscorrect tick
Do you have a licence?correct tickwrong cross
I need to license this vehicle.correct tickcorrect tick
This restaurant is licensed to sell alcohol.correct tickcorrect tick
May I see your driving licence please?correct tickwrong cross
I am unable to give you a license because of your history.wrong crosscorrect tick
This is not worth losing your licence over.correct tickwrong cross

A Video Summary

Here is a short video summarizing the difference between "licence" and "license."

Tip for Brits

Spotting the Verb

Try substituting the verb "to allow" with the verb "to license" to confirm it's a verb.
  • This restaurant is allowed to sell alcohol. correct tick
As this sounds okay, "licensed" is correct.

Spotting the Noun

Try substituting the noun "papers" with the noun "licence" to confirm it's a noun.
  • May I see your driving papers please? correct tick
As this sounds okay, "licence" is correct.

No confusion with "Licensing" or "Licensed"

There should be no confusion with "licensing" or "licensed." The endings "-ing" and "-ed" mean these are always from the verb; i.e., there are no such words as "licencing" or "licenced" in British English or American English.

"License" in America

If you're an American, use "license." (In American English, license is both noun and verb.)

The Differences between British English and American English

Watch an 11-minute video showing 10 big differences between British English and American English.

Ready for the Test?

Help Us Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?

Find Us Quicker!

  • When using a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing), you will find Grammar Monster quicker if you add #gm to your search term.