I'm looking for a term in English to describe a person working for the government of a country (for example France).

I found "official" and in particular "government official" in wikipedia., though I'm not 100% sure it's the term I want. Does this include for example, teachers in public schoools? All kind of workers, even at the lowest level of authority, for example a cleaning guy in a public school?

This question came up because "oficial" (in spanish, my tongue) has some authority attached to it.

  • 3
    In uk there's a difference made between people workign for a government organistation and for the state see diffenrece between Public servant and Civil servant civilservant.org.uk/information-definitions.html so Public servant would be fine for UK "A person who works for the state or for local government, such as a judge or teacher."
    – P. O.
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:25
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    The simple answer is no, in English you definitely do not refer to teachers (say) as government "officials".
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:52
  • 1
    Postal workers and many teachers are employed by private companies.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 14:29
  • 10
    A cynic might say the best one-word synonym for "government worker" was "oxymoron".
    – alephzero
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 20:02
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    @alephzero What?! I would say that the best phrase for a government worker is an "undervalued, underpaid, indefatigable stalwart of society". But then again, you might want to disregard those millions who work to keep us alive, safe and comfortable. Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 21:52

6 Answers 6


They are public sector employees (as opposed to private sector employees)

The public sector is the part of the economy concerned with providing various governmental services. The composition of the public sector varies by country, but in most countries the public sector includes such services as the military, police, infrastructure (public roads, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, etc.), public transit, public education, along with health care and those working for the government itself, such as elected officials. The public sector might provide services that a non-payer cannot be excluded from (such as street lighting), services which benefit all of society rather than just the individual who uses the service.

Businesses and organizations that are not part of the public sector are part of the private sector. The private sector is composed of the business sector, which is intended to earn a profit for the owners of the enterprise, and the voluntary sector, which includes charitable organisations.


  • 3
    Yes, I was just about to answer the same. Someone who works for the local transit authority or sewer district may not think of themselves as working for the government (even though they are working for a government or at least a governmental organization), but they are undeniably part of the public sector.
    – choster
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 17:36

In English, there is no single umbrella term systematically used for workers employed by the government (unlike the word "fonctionnaire" in French or the terms "funcionario" and "funcionario público" in Spanish).

The various terms that may be used are:

  • public/civil servant,
  • public official,
  • senior/minor [government] official,
  • state employee,
  • government/public worker/employee,
  • functionary.

But I am surely forgetting some other expressions.

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    +1 For your first paragraph. If you worked for a government agency and were an employee of the government (as opposed to a contractor), you would be called a civil servant. But if you're a teacher at a grade school it's more appropriate to call you a public employee (but more common to just say public school teacher). I think 'public servant' isn't common colloquially, and wouldn't be used to refer to either of my examples above in practice. My experience is in the US.
    – spacetyper
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 16:58
  • In some parts of the English speaking world it's perfectly normal to call teachers civil servants
    – slebetman
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 8:00
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    @spacetyper: Beware - in the UK "public school teacher" does not mean a teacher employed by the government - in fact the opposite (confusingly)!
    – psmears
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 9:53
  • @psmears: Beware! At least in Scotland, we don't really use the term "public school" - it's a "private" school, as opposed to a "state" school! Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 10:40
  • @AngusIreland: Yep, "private school" is the generic term; "public school" has a slightly more specific meaning (which is indeed limited to England). My point was that to prevent confusion one should avoid using "public school", rather than to suggest using it - hence not going into all the detail :)
    – psmears
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 10:49

Your feelings about the word 'official' are well founded; it has similar implications in American English.

The term I would use is 'civil servant' or 'public servant'. This could be used for anyone from a postal worker to the president, though there are some jobs I am not used to it being associated with, military members being one class. According to Wikipedia these terms only officially refer to national government employees, but I believe colloquial use is much broader.

  • Bot note that you rarely refer to teachers as 'civil servants' or 'public servants'.
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:53
  • Indeed I have certainly never heard a postal worker referred to as a 'civil servant' or 'public servant'
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:53
  • @JoeBlow That's because in many places teachers do not actually work for the government, and often neither do postal workers. Both 'civil servant' and 'public servant' carry the implication that the worker is someone who actually carries out the function of government. Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 14:39
  • hi DJ. I mean in the typical USA context where teachers indeed work for "the government" (the local school district, usually funded by "council" taxes and some state and federal taxes) - they are 100% government workers; the US Postal Service is simply establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States. I have never, ever, heard a postie or teacher in US referred to as 'civil servant' or 'public servant'.
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 14:49
  • The US was exactly the case I meant. A school district is not strictly 'the government', although it is government funded. Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 16:18

Here's some info in the context of India :

In India , a person drawing his salary directly from taxpayer's money is called Public Servant.

The word Civil Servant on the other hand carries a Raj era legacy when the country was governed by the Indian Civil Services. Even though the ICS is defunct now, the term Civil Services is reserved for mid to high level bureaucrats and other government officials. For instance, the government conducts civil services exams for recruitment of mid to high level officials and Staff Selection examinations for lower levels in its hierarchy.

So Public Servant is the all-encompassing word for anyone working for the government. A legal definition of the word is here

The word Public Sector in India has a special meaning. It refers only to various business organisations run by government due to its soft socialist nature. These include a number of petroleum companies , mining companies , banks etc. Their day to day operation is not supposed to be funded by government and in most cases they compete directly with their private counterparts and pay dividends to government. A huge multitude of people working in them are called Public Sector Units (PSU) employees


The word bureaucrat could fit what you're looking for.

Google's definition:

an official in a government department, in particular one perceived as being concerned with procedural correctness at the expense of people's needs.

The only caveats however is that bureaucrat often has a negative connotation to it, as mentioned in the definition.


This is surely a regional thing. In Australia Commonwealth and state employees work for the the Australian or state Public Service Commission headed by a commissioner. Terms have changed over time. So we call federal and state employees public servants.

Not all government employees are public servants, postal workers haven't been since July 1 1976. You wouldn't call the postman a public servant but an Australia Post employee. Though the may be referred to in stats as a public sector employee.

Local government employees are called council workers or staff.

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