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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.

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