“Council” vs. “Counsel”: Get Guidance On The Difference

dark teal text on light teal background: "council vs. counsel"

It’s no wonder you might need advice when it comes to the difference between council and counsel. Not only are they pronounced identically, but they are both often used in the same contexts and sometimes even in the same sentence! However, these words do have different meanings, and one of them is always a noun while the other can be a noun or a verb.

In this article, we’ll explain the difference between council and counsel, clarify which one is used to refer to a lawyer or legal advice, and give examples of how we often use these two words.

Quick summary

Council is always a noun, and it most often refers to an official group that makes decisions. Counsel is commonly used as a noun to mean “advice” and as a verb to mean “to give advice to.” The term legal counsel most commonly refers to a person’s legal representation (that is, their attorney or team or attorneys) or to the services or advice provided as part of such representation.

Should you use council or counsel?

The word council is a noun—and only a noun. It most commonly refers to “a body of people who have been officially designated or selected to act in an advisory, administrative, or legislative capacity.” A council isn’t always official, but the word usually implies that it is.

For example, a city council is a city’s legislative body—the elected officials whose job is to enact the laws and other policies of a city. An example that uses the word in its official name is the Council of Europe, a European international organization that makes declarations and decisions regarding human rights.

The word counsel can be used as a verb and a noun. As a noun, it is most commonly used to mean “advice,” as in I always value the wise counsel that you give me. As a verb, it means “to give advice to,” as in I’ve been trying to counsel my kids about their careers.

Is it legal counsel or council?

In law, the phrase legal counsel is a set phrase that refers to a person’s legal representation (that is, their attorney or team or attorneys), as in The defendant opted not to retain legal counsel. It can also refer to the services provided as part of such representation, and it can simply mean “legal advice.”

Although legal counsel is the commonly used phrase, it is certainly possible for a group that discusses law or makes legal decisions to be called a “legal council.” Of course, use of this phrase could potentially be confusing given the existence of the more established term legal counsel.

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How to use council and counsel in a sentence

The following examples show the different ways that counsel and council are often used.

  • The queen’s advisors always gave her wise counsel.
  • The ad-hoc council decided to recruit new members.
  • Jenny counseled me about how to handle myself during a job interview.
  • A council of elders provided counsel to the emperor.
  • I’m not a lawyer, so I strongly advise you to seek legal counsel.

Go one step further and learn the difference between advice and advise.

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