For example,
"We decide to engage a lawyer for the case."
"We decide to hire a lawyer for the case."

Is engage used particularly in British English? Do speakers of American English use engage in such examples?

2 Answers 2


The meaning of the words given by the NOAD are the following:

  • hire: employ for a short time to do a particular job
  • engage: arrange to employ or hire someone

Similar definitions are given by the Merriam and Webster, which gives the following definitions:


  • to engage the temporary use of something for a fixed sum
  • to grant the personal services of somebody, or the temporary use of somebody for a fixed sum


  • to arrange to obtain the use or services of somebody

Looking at the CoCA and BNC for sentences containing "engage a lawyer" and "hire a lawyer" I get the following results:



Simply put, engage is really not all that common when it comes to hiring people. Just use hire; its primary definition is more applicable to the situation than engage. It is interesting to note that the definition of hire includes the word engage. I think that hiring someone is a more specific form of engagement, and if you're looking to achieve clarity, then hire is your best bet.

I'm fairly certain that the definitions of these two words have little variation between British English and American English, so this answer most likely applies to both.

Edit: Colin Fine has informed me that this does not necessarily apply to British English.

  • 2
    No, it does not apply to British English, except insofar as US expressions have become common in recent decades. Up to thirty or forty years ago, the only things you "hired" in Britain were inanimate objects: tools, clothing, cars. The general word for people is "employ", with "engage" a somewhat more formal (or elegant) variant. There isn't really a colloquial word for it, and phrases such as "give a job to" are used.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 14:03
  • @ColinFine My apologies then. I shall edit my answer accordingly.
    – user11550
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 15:19
  • 1
    "Take on" is another British expression for it.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 16:10
  • @ColinFine We say that here, but it's informal.
    – user11550
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 16:12

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