I am interested to find if the two terms consulting and advising are interchangeable, particularly in business.

Generally, one consults someone else, who advises. That is, the seeker of information is consulting, and the giver of information advises.

However, there are firms of consulting engineers and other similar outfits. They don’t consult, they advise, so it appears that the terms are indeed synonymous, at least in certain circumstances. What are those circumstances? The dictionary definitions I found (linked above) don’t mention that consult can mean advise or counsel.

  • 2
    You consult, I advise. – Barrie England Jan 4 '13 at 22:08
  • @BarrieEngland Yes but "Consulting engineers" do the advising. – Andrew Leach Jan 4 '13 at 22:36
  • @Andrew: But consulting engineers don't so much "consult" themselves, as wait for clients to consult them. – FumbleFingers Jan 4 '13 at 22:54
  • Yes, they aren't doing the consulting, despite the title. There is some ambiguity in how the word is used. The question here isn't particularly well-put, but there is a question. – Andrew Leach Jan 4 '13 at 22:57
  • 2
    @AndrewLeach which none answered – EnexoOnoma Jan 5 '13 at 0:43

OED says that this use of the word consulting does in fact mean giving advice and stems from a now-obsolete sense of the French consulter, to give (professional) counsel. They suggest that the word should be parsed as a noun used attributively, rather like "loudspeaker" in "loudspeaker cabinet", "a cabinet for a loudspeaker". Thus a "consulting engineer" is an engineer to whom one goes for a consulting.

consulting, adj.
2: Applied to a physician, engineer, etc., who makes a business of giving professional advice, either to the public or to those practically engaged in the profession. [ < French médecin consultant, ‘celui qui donne des consultations’ (Littré); from obsolete sense of consulter to give (professional) counsel: compare “consultation” n. 2c. But as now used consulting would be understood as an attributive use of the verbal noun.]

consulting, n.
The action of the verb consult; consultation. Also attributive, as in consulting room.

However, this is the only way in which the word consulting is synonymous with anything to do with advice. The normal uses are as quoted in the question: one consults someone who advises, and the words are practically antonyms.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Sherlock Holmes called himself 'the first consulting detective', by analogy with consulting doctors. I have always understood that when a specialist is called in, he and the person first called in consult together. – Tim Lymington Jan 5 '13 at 12:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.