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The tip I used to teach was the verb, hire, should be used for things which are transportable hence, you hire a car, sports equipment, a boat, a bike etc.

Rent, on the other hand, is primarily used for property, e.g.; to rent a holiday residence; "office space for rent"; and "We're living in rented accommodation".

But I realize that tip doesn't cover everything and here's why.


In the UK, when I was a child and before credit cards became the norm; families who couldn't afford to pay the full price of household furniture, electrical appliances; including colour TVs, and even alarm clock radios were "bought" on HP (hire and purchase) – once popularly called the "never-never". Recently, I discovered that in the US a similar system for purchasing goods exists but is known as Rent-to-Own. link

The same discrepancy lies with car rentals in the US and car hire in the UK but in neither case do you end up purchasing the vehicle.

We hire personal trainers (I suppose they are transportable and for a limited period) but we also rent designer dresses and rent movies or videos (BrEng).

  • So when do I use hire and rent in the UK and the US?
  • Are there any other differences I should be aware of?
  • Are they interchangeable?
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The most immediate difference to me is that people are hired and objects and services are rented. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Sep 11 '13 at 19:02
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When you 'rent' a person, they are basically prostituting themselves, cf. the term 'rent boy' for a younger, male prostitute. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 11 '13 at 19:12
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It sounds as though this is a difference between American and British English. Or, more precisely, someone should confirm that this is a difference in American and British English, because if it is so, then that is likely the answer to this question. For reference, I, an American English Speaker, have never heard of anyone "hiring a car" before. You either rent it (own it for a fixed time at a fixed rate), or buy it (purchase it in whole), and only hire individuals or organizations, but never objects. –  Zibbobz Sep 11 '13 at 19:15
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@Zibbobz really? You've never heard of hiring a car, that is something I didn't expect. telegraph.co.uk/travel/travel-advice/9349256/… Italians will only know about renting cars, very rarely have they heard of the expression, hiring. –  Mari-Lou A Sep 11 '13 at 19:25
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You are actually hiring a driver when you hire a limousine but you are renting a car when you're the driver. Though "rent-a-date" is cute, you're actually hiring an escort. I believe the rule-of-thumb that hiring is for people, renting is for inanimate objects. –  Kristina Lopez Sep 11 '13 at 19:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

In the US the word rent is for objects (cars, tv's, house, tool) and the word hire is for people/service. I cannot think of an example when this is not the case (I am sure a few odd examples exist though).

Upon getting comment from @user814064 I would add:

Rent can be used for a person/service if it is designated for a brief period. But in all of those cases the word hire could also be used.

In the example: "Rent a pilot" it would mean that you will use a pilot's service for one time or a short contracted time. It would also be perfectly acceptable to use "hire a pilot".

I think the missing word here is buy. If you take permanent ownership of an object the common term is buy - and then you own it. You wouldn't want to tell your wife that you hired a backhoe.

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There's a lot of google hits for rent a pilot, rent a tutor etc. –  dcaswell Sep 11 '13 at 19:30
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I wonder if, at least in some instances, "rent a pilot," "rent a tutor," "rent a cook," etc is marketing at work. As @Zibbobz states, there's the connotation of a stronger degree of obligation on the person being rented. In other words, the marketing behind such phrases would emphasize that it's like having your own pilot, cook, etc for a time... owning the service rather than merely borrowing it. –  user49891 Sep 11 '13 at 20:25
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I think "rent a pilot" sounds decidedly informal. Sure, it exists, but I get the nagging feeling that it is supposed to convey some hidden meaning, as if to assure potential customers: "This will be easy! It's just like renting a car." I believe RyeBread's original answer was on-the-mark from a strictly formal English perspective, but that rent a tutor makes for an irresistably nifty marketing gimmick, much like the homey (but grammatically awful) Something R Us. –  J.R. Sep 11 '13 at 20:27
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@J.R. - I am not flying in a plane where someone "Rented a Pilot". It has the easy connection that you refer to and to at least me it means cheap. –  RyeɃreḁd Sep 11 '13 at 20:29
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@RyeBread - I was imagining something like a bush pilot, where the choice is to hire a pilot – or take a very long walk. –  J.R. Sep 11 '13 at 20:34

My answer is very similar to the other answers, but my emphasis is on how much you want to interact with the object/person.

Rent - To rent someone/something means you are going to use it to accomplish a task. (a lot of interaction)

  • I would rent a car so that I can use it to drive around
  • I would rent a DVD so that I can watch the movie on it

Hire - To hire someone/something means you have a task and you want what you hired to accomplish it for you. (little or no interaction)

  • I would hire a contractor to build my house for me
  • I would hire a landscaper to mow my lawn for me

One example I can think of that illustrates my point, and only differs in the use of hire/rent would be:

I'm going to rent a backhoe to do some landscaping.

  • This implies you are going to be doing the work yourself, and you just need to get the backhoe.

I'm going to hire a backhoe to do some landscaping.

  • This implies that you are not going to do the work yourself. It implies you are hiring a backhoe and its operator to do the work for you.
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Thank you for your clear answer. I had to look up backhoe although, it's the first time I've ever seen that word! –  Mari-Lou A Sep 11 '13 at 20:55
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@Mari-LouA Backhoe is only used as technical vocabulary in British English. The vehicles are referred to as "diggers" or as (genericized trademark) "JCBs" in non-technical contexts. –  Richard Gadsden Dec 13 '13 at 10:22
    
Thank you @RichardGadsden, the name diggers I am familiar with, the differences between BrEng and AmEng goes even deeper than I thought. –  Mari-Lou A Dec 13 '13 at 16:16

As a partial answer to this question, for American English -

Rent means to pay for the utility of an object, property, or service provided by another individual. You could rent a boat, you could rent a house, you could even rent a date in some illicit websites, though I wouldn't recommend it.

Hire means to pay for a service provided by another individual or organization, BUT, as seen in the definition, it can also mean 'to engage in temporary use for a fee', and "hire out a car" is acceptable, with the understanding that an organization is providing the car for use. "Hire" is, however, used mostly to say "pay for temporary service of an individual or organization", and while hiring a car does sometimes appear, more commonly it is used to indicate the hiring of a professional, such as a lawyer or baker. It can also mean hiring a company, such as hiring a catering service, hiring a law firm, or hiring a construction crew, in each case the organization provides the service. It can ALSO mean to add someone to a work force, as in 'hiring on an employee'.

The difference here is that "rent" is usually used for objects, and even though it technically can be used for 'renting out' a person, the connotation of renting someone is a stronger degree of obligation on the person being 'rented out'. You have jurisdiction to do whatever you desire to your 'rented' property (beyond irrepairable damage), but when you hire someone or something, it is under the connotation that the organization or individual holds control over their own actions or property (though I would not recommend damaging rented property, as the renter will likely make you pay for the damages!)

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I agree, except that hire is not always temporary. Companies hire full-time permanent employees. Those employees do not have the same self-direction as hired contract workers or professionals. –  bib Sep 11 '13 at 19:35
    
True. Editing to inlcude this case. –  Zibbobz Sep 11 '13 at 19:40
    
@bib and in the UK I believe the verb more commonly used is to employ somebody full-time. –  Mari-Lou A Sep 11 '13 at 19:43
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@Both We use it in the US too, but we also use the term "hire" when someone is brought in to be employed. "Hire" even gets used as a noun sometimes, when someone is called "the new hire", it means they're the person most recently brought in as an employee. –  Zibbobz Sep 11 '13 at 19:47
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@Mari-LouA In the US, employ is also used, but it is more often used to indicate an ongoing retention in a job rather than the initial engagement: Company A employs 340 people [on an ongoing basis] but Company B hires 340 new people every year. –  bib Sep 11 '13 at 19:49

Because the differences between British and American English usage of rent and hire wasn't really dealt with, I did some research and came up with this rather detailed summary.

  • Rent (the fixed amount of money you pay to an owner for the use of something, especially that you pay regularly for; a room, a home, an office etc.)

American English

As noted by RyeBread, Zibbobz and tehDorf, in the USA only goods and accommodation are rented; in extremely rare cases are they said to be hired. The contract to rent an item or property can be either short or long term, for example: rent a car; rent a Halloween costume; rent an apartment; rent a movie; etc.

Rent accommodation (out) to
The owner of the property rents out to tenants, the sign displayed outside a home advertising its availability will have the words: House for rent.

for rent

Goods
The consumer (or lessee) also has the opportunity to purchase the rented good(s) by paying the rental fee for a length of time or by paying a lump sum payment. This form of purchasing is known as rent-to-own or installment plan.


British English

In the UK it is more common to rent goods (TVs, furniture etc.) and accommodation on a long term contract.

Rent accommodation out / Let
Houses, flats (apartments AmEng) etc. which are rented are usually let in the UK. A home displaying a sign in the window might have the words: Rooms to let. A British home owner might say: "We live in the downstairs flat and let the upstairs one to tenants." Let and rent are nevertheless, both common terms used in the UK.

to let

Hire
an agreement where a person pays for an object or property to use for a short period of time.

As previously mentioned in the question; goods in the UK can be hired or bought on HP (Hire and Purchase). Regardless of its size, any object can be hired in the UK be it a bicycle, a DVD, a room to host a conference or even a castle. But the arrangement is usually a temporary one. E.g; Windsurfing and water skiing equipment on hire; "prices include return flights and car hire"; "they hired a marquee for the wedding". And clothes are hired, usually for single occasions, not rented.


  • Hire (to employ or give somebody a job)

In both the UK and in the US the expressions hire and employ are used for employing people on part-time or on permanent contracts. The small difference being that the expressions take on, and employ are used more frequently in the UK compared to the US.

@Barrie England's answer (see link) offers a further alternative: "In the UK, we might be more inclined to appoint a consultant."

Main source: Cambridge Business English Dictionary

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