What’s the Difference Between Counsel and Council?

(Last Updated On: May 10, 2022)

Some words sound exactly the same but mean completely different things. For those who speak English as their first language, this might just be something accepted as a normal thing. But having words that sound similar in any language makes learning it as a second one pretty tough. We could pick any number of same-sounding words out of a hat to frustrate English learners or speakers, and today it’s going to be “counsel” and “council.” It’s pretty annoying because you could have a council made up of counselors, who will be giving you counsel. Yeah. Let’s give some counseling on the difference. So what’s the difference between counsel and council?

Further Reading: Capital vs Capitol: What Is the Difference?

Parts of Speech

The first difference between “counsel” and “council” is the parts of speech they inhabit. You may have picked up on this at the beginning when we used both “counsel” and “council” in a sentence together. 

“Counsel” can be either a noun or a verb. Nouns are broadly people, places, or things–they can do things or have things done to them in a sentence. They can also refer to concepts or qualities, like talking about the “softness” of a blanket. Verbs are the things that get done to nouns.

You can be a counselor, and you can do the counseling. However, this isn’t the case for “council.” “Council” can only be a noun. 

Counsel as a noun and verb

As a noun, you can use “counsel” to refer to two things. The first is as a piece of advice, for example you can “give counsel” to someone. As for the second, you’d be modifying the word to “counselor.” That’s just the person giving the advice. There is an edge-case with the word “counsel” can still refer to a person unmodified. That edge case is for lawyers. For example if you have two attorneys representing you, they would refer to each other as “co-counsel.” 

Otherwise it’s “counselor.” 

You can use the word nominally as well. A nominal describes a group of words that, when put together, work as nouns. For example, say you’re talking about a “hot mug of coffee.” Logically, it makes more sense to say that the adjective “hot” is modifying “mug of coffee,” rather than just “mug” or “coffee.” When using the word “counsel” nominally it’s often grouped with the word “keep.” To “keep one’s counsel” means you’re not prone to sharing your thoughts with others. 

When you’re using “counsel” as a verb you have to make sure it conforms to whatever verb tense you’re using. For example, we’re counseling you on some funky words right now.

The council will decide your fate

“Council” can only be used as a noun like we mentioned earlier. Which means if you’re trying to figure out whether or not you’re using the right word, you can use this as a litmus check. If you’re using “council” as a verb you’re doing it wrong.

Anyway, councils are just groups of people who come together to make decisions–you’re probably most familiar with this in terms of politics. Something like your local City or County Council.

Members of a council are normally referred to as councilman, councilwoman, or the gender neutral councilor. 

Councilors can only do counseling, though. They can’t do “counciling.” 

Speaking of the council deciding your fate, see if you know which countries had theirs decided by the UN Security Council here.



About Kyler 728 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.