Google says Clientele means: "clients collectively." But so does Clients mean

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    Look it up in a dictionary. If English isn’t your first language, try a translating dictionary.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 11:28
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    You use a raised pinky finger when you say "Clientele".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 11:37
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    This question needs some assistance and probably edits by the OP, but not out-of-hand close votes. These subtlety and shades-of-meaning type questions are tricky on this site.
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 11:44
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    @cobaltduck The edits needed is to quote and cite definitions for both words from a reputable dictionary and a personal comparison and contrast from the OP’s perspective. It is unlikely the OP would still have questions after that; though it he does, putting in that legwork would earn him to the right to ask for assistance. As it is, he hasn’t.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 11:49
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    I don't understand why some "lacks research" questions are close-voted so vigorously, while others receive extensive answers. When I look at a dictionary I see very little difference between the two words. The main difference is in nuance.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 11:54

2 Answers 2


You are correct that the distinction is very subtle and not easily discerned from a simple dictionary definition. Clients is the plural of client, and clientele refers to a body clients, per Merriam-Webster.

The tiny difference must be derived from experience and familiarity with usage, then. Consider:

We must find a way to make our clients more comfortable with the user interface.

Tom and Joe are two of our oldest clients.

As opposed to:

This store tends to serve a more up-scale clientele.

How can we appeal more to the youth clientele?

I argue that clients is used for a more concrete subject, to actual persons or entities that purchase and use goods and services. Clientele on the other hand, is used more abstractly, to refer to a type or category. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, however.

  • You fail to discuss the fact that "clients" may well be used in a collective sense (as it is in your first example). If you say "the clients of Doug Smith" it's not much different from saying "Doug Smith's clientele". "Clientele" would fit fairly well in your first example.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 12:17
  • I think Clientèle is used when the focus is on the characteristics or attributes of the group and clients when focusing on the people themselves. Thus upscale clientèle. And in the example above, it’s the clients who must get used to the interface
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 14:03
  • How about this. If I say "Our clients include Tom and Joe," is that the exact same thing as saying "Our clientele includes Tom and Joe," or is there some (subtle and nuanced) difference? I don't think there is a definitive answer, but it sounds different to my ear.
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 14:34
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    @cobaltduck - Yeah, I’d say our clients include Tom and Joe, and our clientèle includes engineers and scientists. But also our clientèle includes people like Tom and Joe.
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 16:10

Your firm may have lots of different clients, but you only cater/serve to international-clientèle. So, when you group a type of clients based on some parameter(s), you say them clientèle.

All your clients = Asian clientèle + African clientèle + American clientèle + European clientèle + ... + Middle Eastern clientèle etc.

Nice explanation given in this article:

When you become someone's client you pay for the services (or advice) that he/she provides you. When you go to a lawyer or an accountant you become his/her client.

The term "clientèle" is used to refer to all the clients of a professional organization or business. You are thinking of the clients as a group. A "clientèle" can be defined as a "collective body of clients". Here are a few examples.

1 The clientèle of my cousin's law firm consists of big corporations.

2 The new restaurant has a very fashionable clientèle.

3 This bank's clientèle includes some of the richest people in the city.

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