One of the unintended consequences of the fiercely independent American ideology is that sometimes Americans and their British compatriots decide to spell things differently. These divergent spellings may not be as common as they once were, but they still pepper the English language, and they still confuse beginning writers and second language learners. Check and cheque are examples of differences in spelling between British and American English. The older spelling, check, has been and continues to be used with greater frequency in all contexts.
The word check originated from Middle English (originally as used in the game of chess): the noun and exclamation from Old French eschec, from medieval Latin scaccus, via Arabic from Persian šāh ‘king’; the verb from Old French eschequier ‘play chess, put in check’. The sense ‘stop or control’ arose from the use in chess, and led (in the late 17th century) to ‘examine the accuracy of’. The word cheque originated in early 18th century (originally denoting a counterfoil, or a form with a counterfoil): variant of check1, in the sense ‘device for checking the amount of an item’.
Check as noun:
Check as verb:
Cheque as noun:
Use of check:
Check, which is actually the older of the two spellings, is standard in American English. Check, of course, has multiple uses, as it can be a noun or a verb. If you are a writer in the United States, you will use check in all circumstances be it the checking at the airport or a bank’s check.
Use of cheque:
Cheque is much less common than check in American English, so much so that it is generally considered a spelling error. It is only used in the above financial context, and then only rarely. Cheque is the standard spelling in British English, where it has been used since the earlier 19th century—but only for check in the financial sense.
Check or cheque:
Check has many meanings, one of which is an order for a bank to transfer funds to another entity. In this sense, it shares its meaning with the British spelling of the term cheque. Even in British English, cheque is only used in financial contexts and check is used in most other ones. If you can’t decide whether to use check or cheque, there’s an easy way to remember. Cheque spelled with qu is uncommon, or quirky in American English. Remember the qu from cheque and quirky, and you’ll know that using cheque is quirky. There is nothing wrong with sounding quirky, but if that’s not your intention (especially in academic and professional writing), stick with check instead.