Advisor vs. Adviser: How to Choose the Right Word

There's not much difference, actually

A career adviser assisting a client at a job fair
Win McNamee/Getty Images 

Much like "toward" and "towards," the words "advisor" and "adviser" often pose some common conundrums: Do the two different, but correct, spellings of the same word convey subtly different meanings? And even if both are technically correct, is one more “appropriate” than the other in certain circumstances?

Both "advisor" and "adviser" are examples of a category of nouns called "agent nouns"—nouns that refer to someone or something that performs the action of a verb and typically end in either “or” or “er,” like “worker” or “detector.”

So, even though a person who writes is a writer, a person who dances is a dancer, and a person who wanders is a wanderer, a person who advises can be an adviser or an advisor.

If their meaning is the same, how do you decide whether to use "advisor" or "adviser"? While both spellings are acceptable, both are not equally preferred.

How to Use "Advisor"

Both "advisor" and "adviser" refer to one who advises or gives advice to others. "Advisor" with the "-or" ending, is of Latin origin. Often, you'll see this spelling used in more formal contexts, government, job titles, or academic work.

"Advisor" is more heavily used, both in titles and otherwise, in scholarly and academic texts throughout the English-speaking world. This may be due to the fact that the "-or" suffix is commonly used with verbs that have a Latin origin.

There is a largely unproven theory that due to its origin, "advisor" denotes a more “formal” tone than "adviser," thus making it better suited for use in academic writing.

The Virginia Tech University Style Guide, for example, recommends the use of "advisor," as it is “used more commonly in academe,” adding that “'adviser' is acceptable in releases going to organizations that follow AP [Associated Press] style.”

Although "adviser" is the heavily preferred spelling outside of North America, in the United States and Canada, "advisor" is often used as part of official job titles such as “financial advisor” or “academic advisor.”

"Advisor" also appears to be preferred by the U.S. government, as in national security advisor and veterans' preference advisor. Again, however, this is a preference, not a rule, as "adviser" is often used in titles too.

How to Use "Adviser"

The word "adviser," ending with "-er" is of English origin. Overall, there appears to be a preference for the use of "adviser" in English. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "adviser" appears more often than "advisor."

As a result, English-language usage guides, such as Garner’s Modern American Usage, list "adviser" as the recommended—but not mandatory—spelling, with "advisor" as a variant. However, the Associated Press Stylebook requires "adviser."

Both forms of the word first appeared in English texts written between 1605 and 1615. However, it is believed that "adviser" had been commonly used for several years before "advisor" first appeared, perhaps contributing to its wider range of acceptance today.

Examples

Following are a couple of examples of the word in use:

  • On dorm move-in day, freshmen will meet the resident adviser (RA), who will help the students acclimate to their new home.
  • As you approach retirement, you should meet with a financial advisor periodically to keep your money properly diversified.

As stated, the words are interchangeable in meaning, so there are generally no negative ramifications in using either one—unless you're following a particular style guide in your work or are in a regulatory environment.

Financial planning consultant Bob Veres told "Investment News," "Whenever I see someone spell adviser with an 'e,' I know it's a securities attorney or an industry lobbyist who specializes in the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission]," because the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 spells the term that way.

A couple of additional examples:

  • The president's national security adviser informed him of the current situation.
  • President Obama named Susan Rice to the post of national security advisor.

If you're writing an article for a newspaper or magazine that follows AP style, use the more common "adviser," according to the stylebook's entry for the generic word usage. But if you're referring to a person's company-conferred job title, defer to the company's spelling of the word.

How to Remember the Difference

Fortunately, you don't have to remember the difference between the two words because they mean the same thing. Just be aware of the preference of whomever you're writing for or how a person's title is noted in his or her official job description.

Because neither "adviser" nor "advisor" is grammatically wrong, usage of the two words really comes down to a matter of choice, with a caveat. They should be used consistently. With few exceptions, they shouldn't both be used in the same document.

Exceptions to Consistency

Those few exceptions to consistency in a single document include usage in proper names and titles and in quotations. When used in proper names and titles, "adviser" and "advisor" should always be spelled as they are in the title. In the president’s “Council of Economic Advisers,” for example, use of "advisor" would be incorrect. Similarly, when quoting text from another document, "adviser" and "advisor" should be spelled as they are in the source.

One Rule: "Adviser" as an Adjective

Although "adviser" is the generally preferred spelling when the word is used as a noun, the adjectival form of "adviser" is correctly spelled "advisory." For example:

  • As a noun: I work as an adviser for my company.
  • As an adjective: I will be working for the firm in an advisory capacity.

This may contribute to the confusion surrounding "adviser" vs. "advisor." However, while either "adviser" or "advisor" can be used in most cases, "advisory" is the only correct adjectival spelling. "Advisery" isn’t even a word.

Sources

  • “Adviser.” Associated Press Stylebook, www.apstylebook.com/ap_stylebook/adviser.
  • “Adviser | Definition of Adviser in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/adviser.
  • Benjamin, Jeff. “Adviser or Advisor? The Debate Rages On.” InvestmentNews - The Investing News Source for Financial Advisers, 19 Mar. 2017, www.investmentnews.com/article/20170319/FREE/170319931/adviser-or-advisor-the-debate-rages-on.
  • Garner, Bryan A. Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • “University Style Guide.” VT Virginia Tech, vt.edu/brand/resources/university-style-guide.html.