Make Your Editor Cry: Council vs. Counsel

Make Your Editor Cry: Council vs. Counsel

A council is meeting for discussion or advice. To counsel is a verb meaning to give advice. Before the 16th century, council and counsel were interchangeable, but by the 1500s council’s meaning became restricted to “a meeting” and counsel’s changed into “to give advice.”

A council as a noun is a group of people that gathers for the purpose of giving advice or making decisions. For example, if you’re president of the student council you might organize people to determine the prom theme. Used as an adjective, council describes things related to a council (noun), such as a council candidate or a council room, or a council member.


I’ve been on the city council for five years.

The student council discussed plans for the graduation.

The word counsel is trickier. 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 advice, usually legal advice. When you give counsel or counsel someone, you give advice. An attorney who goes to trial for you is your counsel. That same lawyer would also counsel you.

This person needs the counsel of a psychiatrist.

If I don’t know an answer, I seek counsel from sharper minds.

The two should not be confused. If you need a verb or an attorney, use counsel. When referring to a meeting or group, use council.

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