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I know that both post and position are polysemic and have a lot of non-overlapping meanings, but I am asking about the following definitions:

position: a post of employment: a position in a bank.

post: a position of duty, employment, or trust to which one is assigned or appointed: a diplomatic post.

In this meanig, are these two words completely interchangeable or are there any slight differences in the meaning? The question arose when I wrote

[He] applied for the position of head of human resources at [a big company].

and my teacher corrected position to post. When I asked her why, she just said that in that particular context post sounded right and position sounded wrong (to her British ears).

So, what is the difference between post and position and why (if my teacher is right) is post preferable to position in my sample sentence?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

While position and post can often be used interchangeably in reference to employment or occupation, I believe

  • Post more strongly connotes an assigned station, especially a specific geographic place and often for a temporary or rotating assignment.
  • Position on the other hand more strongly connotes a rank or class.

In my experience, if you ask an executive for her post, she may say "the Lisbon office," whereas if you ask for her "position," she's more likely to say "Vice President for Ibero-European Operations" or some such.

Both position and post can trace their roots back to the Latin verb pono, ponere, meaning to put or to situate something, but the latter, according to Merriam-Webster, came via Middle French and Old Italian having acquired the meaning of a relay station along the way. This sense of post is of course carried through in its courier-related meanings, i.e. we send mail through the post (NAmE) or send a post through the mail (BrE).

The U.S. Army refers generically to its installations as "posts," and a soldier is "posted" to a particular assignment as well as given a particular "post" when on duty. In the same way we can speak of journalists or diplomats being sent to a "post" like the Tehran bureau or the Shanghai consulate or of waitresses or warehouse workers being sent to a "post" like tables 20-24 or delivery dock C. In both cases, we are speaking of a temporary assignment to a particular station.

So in your example, I would think either of

[He] applied for the position of head of human resources at [a big company].

[He] applied for the post of head of human resources at [a big company].

to be fine, the former preferred if "head of human resources" is a permanent role, the latter if it's a waystation for those on their way up or down the corporate ladder.

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It is totally subjective, but one difference in usage that I can sense is the following. Post is commoner when one applies for a job, position sounds good when you talk of someone who is settled in his job.

For example,

  • This job is posted in London.
  • My job posted me to London.
  • His position as a senior manager came under scrutiny.

The exchange of post/position in these sentences will cause them to sound rather awkward.

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It is purely cultural. Both can be interchanged freely so long as you retain consistent use of one or the other to prevent confusion.

He was posted to/positioned in the post/position of Manager.

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1  
You have to be careful using 'position' as a verb. It's often used in a business context, and possibly more widely, to describe the strategies which individuals or organisations use to gain a commercial or some other advantage. –  Barrie England Mar 29 '12 at 15:17

In American English anyway, I think in this context the two words are synonyms. Most would say "position" except for a few stock phrases, like "diplomatic post".

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