Coworker vs. colleague—is there a difference, and how do you know which one to use?
This post will take a deep dive into the difference between “colleague” and “coworker” to help you understand the subtleties of the terms and when to use which word. We’ll also provide a list of synonyms to use in place of coworker or colleague and answer other common grammatical questions that you may have.
Coworker and colleague are very similar words that are often used interchangeably. There are, however, subtle differences in their meaning.
Coworker is a general term that applies to anyone that you work with. This could be someone you work with directly or someone who works at the same company as you in a completely different role.
The word can refer to a person within the same profession, so technically, a colleague could be someone who shares a similar role to yours at a completely different company. A colleague can also be someone you’ve done business with, such as a business partner or someone you’ve collaborated with in the past.
The term is typically used to describe someone who has approximately the same rank as you. A peer on your team is a colleague, whereas your boss or assistant is a coworker.
About ten years ago, the terms coworker and colleague shared a similar search volume, according to Google’s US search data. In recent years, coworker has taken off as the more common word. The difference could be explained by the rapidly growing coworking industry that now also uses the word coworker.
Since the way we live and work is continuing to evolve in the 21st century, the word coworker now has a second definition that can be defined as “a person engaged in the practice of coworking.”
Coworking is a growing trend where people share an office space and other infrastructures while working independently from one another. A coworking space is a work environment you can pay to share with other like-minded workers.
They offer shared resources such as coffee, printers, office supplies, or private meeting rooms at a lower cost than what it would take to supply your own personal workspace and supplies. Coworking spaces range from pay by the hour coffee shops fitted with charging stations and other supplies to more corporate spaces where you can rent your own office.
One big advantage of coworking is the community that comes along with it. As a freelancer, solopreneur, or remote worker, a coworking space offers the office connections and friends you may be missing while traveling the world or working from home alone.
The main difference between the two terms is that a coworker refers to someone who works at the same organization as you, while a colleague could be someone with a similar position at a different company. A colleague is meant to describe someone of a similar rank. A coworker can include the people you work with more broadly, such as upper management or an administrative assistant.
In the office, your boss is your coworker, not a colleague. The people who work on the same team as you are both colleagues and coworkers. You might connect with colleagues in your industry on Linkedin or meet them at conferences and networking events.
In the healthcare profession, a doctor and a nurse would be considered coworkers, not colleagues, since the rank and role of their job is different. Fellow nurses are both colleagues and coworkers. Fellow doctors are both colleagues and coworkers as well. A doctor who collaborates with another doctor in a different field or organization is considered a colleague.
If you work at a design firm, the other designers, whether on your team or another one, are your colleagues (as well as your coworkers.) Designers at other design firms are also your colleagues. The people at your company who work in a completely different role, such as management or account executives, are your coworkers.
Anyone who works at the same company or law firm as you is considered a coworker. Colleagues are those who share a similar rank with you, whether at your company or another one. Fellow lawyers are colleagues, and fellow administrative employees are colleagues, no matter what firm they work at. A lawyer might recommend a colleague from another firm if they cannot provide the services a client is looking for.
In marketing, your coworkers include anyone who works at the same company as you, including workers on sales, design, administration, or management teams. Your colleagues (also considered coworkers) would be anyone who works on the same team as you or has a similar role. This could be at your company, a partnering company, or a competing company, so long as they have a similar role to yours.
Remote workers are coworkers with anyone else who works at that company regardless of where those employees are located. Colleagues include anyone who works in a similar role at your place of business or at any other company. You might meet colleagues in your industry online, at networking events, or at coworking locations.
Freelancers do not have coworkers since they do not share a hiring body with anyone else. If you work directly with a team on a project, you might consider those people coworkers, depending on the scope of your role. Freelancers have many colleagues, including other freelancers and anyone who works in a similar role, either as a freelancer or at another company.
Definitions fromOxford Languages.
As we’ve outlined earlier in this article, the most obvious other name for coworker is colleague, though they have a slightly different meaning. If you’re still searching for another term, you can use the synonyms: teammate, workmate, collaborator, or associate to describe a coworker.
You do not need to hyphenate the word coworker, but it is acceptable to do so. Coworker is a word that can be spelled in two different ways, either coworker or co-worker.
This happens to hyphenated words quite often. They begin as a compound word with a hyphen, but as the word gains more popularity, it becomes more common to see it spelled without a hyphen. A familiar example is the word email, which once was only seen with a hyphen (e-mail). Nowadays, it’s much more commonplace to see it spelled email.
Even though both spellings are technically correct, you should maintain consistency in your writing and not fluctuate back and forth between spelling variations. If your business has a style guide, fall back to what they outline in there. Since both spellings are correct, there will always be someone who thinks you’re spelling it wrong no matter which version you choose.
Colleague is a tough word to spell, and although it's often used in correspondence, it’s a common typo. Prevent typos by proofreading everything you write, including your emails. Double check the word colleague in particular for any misspellings.
Common misspellings include:
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