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What is the difference between the two?

I think that "caretaker" is more appropriate for someone who takes care of things or inanimate property; whereas "caregiver" would be someone who takes care of a person.

I'm just amused at how the opposite roots of "give" and "take" are used to mean the same thing.

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"Caregiver" is an Americanism that some people in the rest of the world still dislike. –  ShreevatsaR Jan 3 '11 at 7:22
    
@ShreevatsaR: Why on earth would anyone dislike "caregiver"? –  Dave M G Aug 25 '12 at 2:23

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

From the OED:

caregiver n. orig. U.S. a person, typically either a professional or close relative, who looks after a child, elderly person, invalid, etc.; a carer.

caretaker n. a. One who takes care of a thing, place, or person; one put in charge of anything.

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Note the distinction: caretaker can be used for inanimate objects and caregiver usually is not. So some people might think "janitor" when they hear "caretaker" but not when they hear "caregiver". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 21 '10 at 20:02
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To be honest, answers that just quote dictionaries without providing any analysis on usage or etymology always kind of disappoint me. Also, more specific to Stack Exchange ethos and rules, if the question can be answered with just dictionary entries, then shouldn't it be closed for lack of basic research? –  Dave M G Aug 25 '12 at 2:27

To expand on John S' answer, I would add this: there are differences in the connotations of the words. A "caretaker" is simply that - someone hired to take care of 'x', whatever 'x' may be ... person, place, or thing. They are paid to do so and would have little true concern for their charge much beyond doing a good enough job to maintain their position. I picture someone managing property or an estate when I hear the term "caretaker."

A "caregiver", on the other hand, gives the impression that the person takes a more vested interest in what they do. There is more of an implication of genuine care and concern expressed in the way in which they treat the person entrusted to them - more of a role of service rather than merely a job. Doctors, nurses, physical therapists, etc. - these come to mind when I think of "caregivers."

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My experience does not give a more positive connotation to caregiver; if anything, just the opposite. The difference between these two terms is merely that one is used specifically for health care, and the other is more generic. –  Marthaª Dec 1 '10 at 19:57
    
Hmm ... that's true; I would say that (unfortunately) there are a number of caregivers that act in a terribly uncaring manner. I guess it takes a special kind of person to fill that role and do so with the kind of care and generosity that I was making reference to. –  Will Dec 2 '10 at 13:59
    
@Martha, I think caregiver is more specific to health care, but mainly because you give care to a person, while you take care of objects or animals. –  Wayne May 12 '11 at 17:05

In the UK, caretaker would be understood to mean janitor (which itself is known but seldom used), and caregiver would stand out as an Americanism (we'd use carer instead).

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We also have care provider, which for some people can mean a single individual carer. But I think in the UK at least, it's normally applied to organisations rather than individuals. –  FumbleFingers Aug 25 '12 at 1:56
    
The word 'janitor' is used in Scotland in preference to 'caretaker'. –  Robin Michael Sep 14 '12 at 10:27

According to Webster's New World Dictionary - "taker" is defined in a single line as a noun: a person who takes something; esp. an available buyer, bettor, etc.

The word "take" takes up half a page. Entry VII offers a perspective on how "take" when combined with the word "care" can be understood as being > someone who has "taken on" the responsiblity of caring.

A subtle difference to the word, significant to the action.

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The NOAD reports the following definitions for the words:

  • caretaker: a person employed to look after a public building or a house in the owner's absence; a person employed to look after people or animals.

  • caregiver: a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person.

Caregiver has a more specific meaning in American English, when referring to somebody who looks after somebody else.

Caretaker can also be used in sentences similar to the following one, to mean holding power temporary:

His was a caretaker regime.

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I think also that there is also a difference in the parts of speach that each word fills. Giving and taking are both verbs that indicate the transfer of something from one person to another. But the forms giver and taker become nouns. In the term caregiver, care becomes the object given, whereas in caretaker, care remains the verb. Caretaker is then a noun form of the verb to take care. Caregiver is then the noun form of the action of giving care.

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The sentence "In the term caregiver, care becomes the object given, whereas in caretaker, care remains the verb" does not make any sense to me. –  RegDwigнt Sep 14 '12 at 9:44

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