English is renowned for its quirky, often logic-defying spelling rules. Gives it character, a mark of our mongrel heritage, we’re told. It doesn’t make it any easier to write, though.

One common area of confusion is when seemingly the same word has two spelling variations – one with a ‘c’, and one with an ‘s’. Words like practice and practise, or licence and license.

The simple answer is that you should use the ‘s’ version if it’s a verb, or the ‘c’ version if it’s a noun.

So verb: the solicitor plans to practise law in the City.
And noun: He hopes to build up a strong commercial property practice.

Or verb: the magistrates refused to license any more bars on the high street.
And noun: So the bar owner did not receive his new licence.

One way to remember is to think of advise and advice. Because these two are pronounced differently (the former with a ‘z’ sound, the latter a soft ‘c’ like in ice), they’re not confused as often. But they do follow he same rule – the verb form uses an ‘s’…to advise your colleague…while the noun takes a ‘c’…it was useful advice.

So, if you’re using the word as a verb, like to advise, to practise or to license, it’s spelt with an ‘s’.

If you’re using it as a noun, like my licence, a practice, or good advice, it’s a ‘c’.