Council vs. Counsel – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ August 30, 2017/ Uncategorized

council versus counsel

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.

For example,

  • 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.

For example,

  • 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.

Outside Examples

  • 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.

Article Summary

Should I use council or counsel? These words sound exactly alike, and both are related to the idea of advice, but they are not the same.

  • Council is specifically a group of people acting in an advisory capacity.
  • Counsel can be either a noun or a verb that means advice. It can also mean a lawyer or someone giving legal advice.

Make sure to keep these two words straight.


  • council
  • counselled
  • counsel