The pronunciations of “counsel” and “council” are almost identical, and this is the reason why they are so often confused. But despite their similarity, they have distinct meanings and should be used in different contexts.
The safest way to make sure you are using words right is to ensure you understand their meanings. This will help you remember in which situation or expression you can use each of them. Grammar.com will provide you some clear explanations to help you out with “counsel” and “council”.
Counsel vs. Council
“Counsel” can be used both as a noun and as a verb, referring to similar concepts, but as different parts of speech.
“Council” might create the impression of a synonym for “counsel”, due to its similar spelling, but is definitely not – if you use it instead of “counsel”, or vice versa, it will definitely be a misspelling.
First of all, “council” is only defined as a noun and secondly, it refers to a different concept than “counsel”. Read more about what “counsel” and “council” represent within the examples provided below.
When do we use “counsel”?
As a noun, “counsel” primary defines a lawyer, or a person who speaks for someone in the court and who offers advice regarding laws. In literature, “counsel” is also used as a synonym for advice.
In addition, “counsel” is often used as a verb, defining the action of advising someone to do something or to solve a problem.
Example 1: The counsel explained the legal procedures to the stakeholders. – “counsel”, as a noun, is used with the meaning of a legal advisor, a lawyer.
Example 2: I need your counsel on this matter. – literary, “counsel” can also be used as “advice”.
Example 3: I asked your father to counsel me on this case – I know he has some valuable experience in the legal field. – as a verb, “counsel” defines the action of offering advice on a matter.
When do we use “council”?
Council should only be used as a noun, defining a group of people usually elected to control an area, either a city or a town, etc. In addition, “council” can also represent a group of people in a company, who are qualified and elected to give advice or to make decisions.
Example 1: The Council of the town decided to invite several foreign artists for the New Year celebration. – “council” is the group of specialists elected to run a town.
Example 2: Our research council decided to intensify their activity during the winter holidays, in order to get more information about our consumers’ profiles. – “council” can also define a group of specialists who make decisions or offer advice within an organization/company.
“Counsel” and “council” should never be replaced or confused, because they define different concepts and can completely change your message.
To keep it short, “counsel” can be used both as a verb (referring to offering specialized advice) and as a noun (defining a qualified person who offers advice), whereas “council” can only be used as a noun, referring to a group of people who run a certain area in a country or a department in a company.
Council vs. Counsel – How to Use Each Correctly
What’s the Difference Between Council and Counsel?
Council and counsel are homophones, which means that the share the same pronunciation but have different meanings and spellings. Their meanings are similar because both words deal with giving advice.
However, there are important differences that make it impossible to interchange the two words.
Council is a noun that means a group of people assembled to give advice.
- Summon the council. The king needs to consult the council members on an important matter.
Counsel can be either a verb or a noun. It can mean advice or to give advice.
- Please help me decide what to do. I always appreciate your counsel.
Now, let’s go over a few ways to use these words correctly.
Using Council in a Sentence
When to use council: Council is a noun that refers to a committee that gives advice to an individual or organization.
- The mayor has asked that we convene the council on housing in order to advise her on the rising homeless population.
- He doesn’t have any real power, but he thinks he is an important politician because he is a member of the city council.
There is one proverb that uses council and there are also multiple collocations:
- councils of war never fight: those who make the decisions about war are not the soldiers endangering their lives by fighting physically in the war
- Some of the soldiers on the front lines wondered why they were risking their lives when the councils of war never fight.
- council member: a person who is part of the council group
- Council members can only join if they are elected. No one can merely appoint a council member.
- council vote: when the group makes a decision through voting
- The council vote was ten to one against lowering the drinking age.
- city council: a legislative body that makes governing decisions for a city
- The city council voted to decrease the number of bus routes throughout Pittsburgh.
Council appears most frequently in the context of government and administration.
Using Counsel in a Sentence
When to use counsel: Counsel can act as either a verb or a noun that refers to advice.
- Teenagers rarely heed the counsel of their parents. (noun)
- The president receives counsel from a man with ulterior motives that are not in the best interest of the country. (noun)
- School staff often counsel the students to strive towards university even when the students would prefer to learn a trade. (verb)
- A good leader ignores those who counsel him to consider his own interests over those of his people. (verb)
There are a couple of expressions that use counsel:
- a fool may give a wise man counsel: don’t trust the advice of everyone
- I’m glad you always listen to your friends, and I know Nancy wants to help you. Just remember that you know yourself better than Nancy. A fool may give a wise man counsel, but that doesn’t mean that he must do what the fool says.
- to keep one’s own counsel: to not share one’s thoughts with others
- Many people seek to understand the queen’s motivations, but she keeps her own counsel.
Counsel is common in the context of school counselors giving educational advice to students. It can also refer to a person in the sense of a legal advisor, such as a lawyer. The term is legal counsel, not legal council.
Remembering Council vs. Counsel
One way to remember the difference between these words is to look at their spellings.
Council has a c where counsel has an s. Relate the second c in council to the c in committee to help you remember that the two words are synonyms.
If you know Spanish, you can also think of the s in the word consejo, which means advice, and relate it to the s in counsel.
- City Council candidate Hiram Monserrate slammed rival Francisco Moya Wednesday for claiming residences at two different addresses, accusing him of either fraudulently obtaining a mortgage or falsely declaring where he lives. –New York Post
- The council discussion on Wild Horse Reservoir, which is designed to hold 32,400 acre-feet of water, brought out strong feelings about private property rights and what the city’s proper role is when it comes to exercising its eminent-domain powers. –Denver Post
- Inconsistencies in Rodrigues’ story and crucial aspects of Timol’s death cast doubt on that version of events, the family’s counsel argued. –The Washington Post
- Houston Community College trustee Dave Wilson said Wednesday that he has retained legal counsel to investigate college procurement, facilities, employment and related financial matters. –Houston Chronicle
Quiz: Counsel vs. Council
Instructions: Fill in the blanks with the correct word, either counsel or council, in the correct form.
- All members of student _______________ must assemble in the cafeteria to discuss ideas for student events today at 4PM.
- The priest _______________ his congregation to ask God for forgiveness.
- Many prisoners choose to obtain legal _____________ to give themselves the best chance of being found not guilty.
See answers below.
Should I use council or counsel?
Council vs. Counsel: Commonly Confused Words
Council and counsel are homophones, and both words relate to the concept of advice and guidance. However, they do not have identical definitions. Here's how to master the differences between these two words.
Council is a noun that refers to a group of people who have been chosen to serve in an administrative, legislative, or advisory role.
The word most commonly appears in a government context, but there are also town councils and student councils. A council can be any assembly of individuals who have been chosen to lead a certain organization.
Members of a council, called councilors, typically make decisions related to the group or organization they serve.
The word counsel can be both a verb and a noun. As a verb, counsel means “to give advice.” As a noun, counsel sometimes refers to a piece of advice or an opinion, often in a legal context. However, the noun form of counsel can also refer to an assembly of people intended to give such advice. A counsel does not have to be elected.
The word counselor comes from counsel. Counselor refers to an advisor or other individual who can offer opinions or guidance, such as a guidance counselor or a marriage counselor.
A helpful way to distinguish between council and counsel is to think of people involved in a counsel as trying to sell you on their advice or opinion: they are trying to coun-sell you.
To remember that a council signifies an elected leadership group, recall that council has two “c”s, and “c” stands for “city” and “committee.”
- Meg's father, a town councilor, met with the high school counselor to discuss Meg's college options. Meg's father is an elected member of the town council. The high school counselor is employed by the school to offer advice and opinions about a student’s collegiate prospects.
- We thanked the lawyers for providing counsel on the matter. Counsel, functioning here as a noun, refers to the legal advice given by a group of lawyers.
Commonly Confused Words: Council vs. Counsel
- What does each word mean?
- A council is an administrative body that manages or advices people.
- Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.
- Here is council used in some example sentences:
- I have to apply to the local council to get a parking permit.
- The school council is elected by the students and is in charge of representing student issues in front of the faculty.
- The Council of Elrond was called in Rivendell to decide what should be done with the One Ring.
Click here to find the Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word council.
The word counsel is usually used as a verb meaning ‘to give advice to’. The word can also be used as a noun meaning ‘legal adviser’ or ‘formally given advice’.
Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.
Here is counsel used in some example sentences:
- The school employs career advisers to counsel students who are making decisions about their futures after graduation.
- He is entitled to legal counsel when he attends his hearing at court.
- They sought counsel when buying their house.
Click here to find the Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word counsel.
Where does each word come from?
Council dates back to the early twelfth century. It comes from the Latin ‘concilium’ meaning ‘a meeting, a gathering of people’ via the Old North French ‘concilie’ meaning ‘assembly; council meeting; body of counsellors’. ‘Conilium’ comes from the PIE root ‘kele’ meaning ‘to shout’.
Counsel also comes from the Latin ‘consilium’. It entered English in the late thirteenth century via the Old French ‘conseiller’ meaning ‘to advise, counsel’.
Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between these words?
- Think of council and counsel as part of this group of words. Nouns are spelled with a ‘c’ in the middle and verbs are spelled with an ‘s’.
- Use the words ‘city council’ to help you remember that council is spelled with the letters ci.
- Where can I find other posts about easy-to-confuse words?
- Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary.
- 01 Nov 2016
‘Council’ or ‘Counsel’?
- Both “council” and “counsel” ultimately go back to the same Latin word, “consilium,” and Online Etymology Dictionary says people have been confusing these two words ever since the 16th century.
- “Council” is a noun that describes a group of decision makers.
- The council took months to reach a decision about who should be held accountable for the confetti incident.
“Counsel” is a verb that means “to give advice,” and it’s also a noun describing the advice received as a result of counseling. For example, a lawyer gives legal counsel, or legal advice. Here’s an example of counsel as a verb:
Squiggly hoped the nutritionist wouldn’t counsel him to give up chocolate.
Here’s a Quick and Dirty Tip: When you’re trying to decide how to spell the verb, think of the “sel” on the end of “counsel” as similar to “sell”—another verb, an action. Salespeople may try to counsel you so they can sell you a certain product.
More Examples of 'Council' and 'Counsel'
Eric Northman: There are times when I seek your counsel, Pam. Now is not one of those times. — “True Blood”
Robert Langdon: You will counsel him wisely.
Cardinal Strauss: I am an old man. I will counsel him briefly.
—”Angels & Demons”
Kel: You just took a council axe from a council van, and now you're tearing up a council road! I'm reporting you to the council! — “Doctor Who”
Brooke Davis: I stopped letting boys define me, and I started believing in myself and in my potential, and I ran for student council president, and I designed a clothing line, and somewhere along the way the lost little party girl became the girl on the wall of honor. — “One Tree Hill”
- We’re holding a [counsel/council] meeting Thursday.
- Do you think George will [counsel/council] Margo to apply to Stanford?
- I have an appointment with the school [counselor/councilor].
- If I know Bob, he’ll seek legal [counsel/council] before responding.
- I’ll have to consult with the [counsel/council] before I make a decision.
Answers on the next page.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
council vs. counsel on Vocabulary.com
A council is meeting for discussion or advice, but to counsel is a verb meaning to give advice. They sound exactly the same, but the language council met and decided to counsel you on how to keep them straight.
Council is a group of people who get together to figure something out, or or a group chosen to give advice, like a student council. Used as an adjective, council describes things related to a council, such as a council candidate or a council room, or a council member:
But the information was often incomplete or conflicting — and council members are now asking the agencies to respond to their queries in writing. (New York Times)
The council is trying to “contain” acts of armed resistance by military defectors and described them as “isolated incidents.” (Business Week)
On the other hand, counsel is more slippery; it can act as a noun or a verb. As a noun, counsel is a synonym for advice, but it can also mean the act of giving that advice or refer to a person who gives legal advice. In fact, a lawyer who goes to trial for you is your counsel. That lawyer would counsel you. Here are some counsels in the wild:
He had argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. (Reuters)
“Don't go out in the storm tonight,” counseled his wife. (Rossiter Johnson)
Before the 16th century, council and counsel were interchangeable, but by the 1500s, council's meaning became restricted to “a meeting” and counsel's “to give advice.
” The two should not be confused. Never! If you need a verb or a lawyer, use counsel because she'll say something helpful.
If you are referring to a meeting or group, choose c for crowd and council.