Civil servant, state employee, government employee, official

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Hese, Jul 18, 2008.

  1. Hese Senior Member

    Hello there,

    could you please explain to me what the difference between a civil servant, a state employee and an official is?

    My dictionary states that

    - a state employee is the term to be used in a general context
    - a civil servant is a high-ranking person (working in a ministery)
    - an official is a low-ranking person (working in administration)

    As usual, I don't trust my dictionary 100% and prefer asking you!

    What is your stance on this?

    Thanks a lot in advance
  2. Monkey F B I Senior Member

    Acton, MA
    English - USA
    Hmmmm, well I would say that your dictionary is right in most circumstances, but there are definitely exceptions!

    An official can be a high-ranking member of an administration and a civil servant (in some countries) can be any sort of person working for the government (firefighters, police, etc.)

    However, "state employee" is certainly just the general term.
  3. Full Tilt Boogie Senior Member

    Manchester, UK
    British English
    A 'state employee' can be anyone working for the state (whether that be state used as in country/nation or, as in the US, where they have individual states which make up a nation). These can be everyone from street-cleaners, to parks attendants, lavatory cleaners, policemen, pest-controllers etc. Any job for which the 'state' pays a stipend or salary. This phrase/term is not usually used in the UK but is used in countries where there is some federal-type of governmental organisation: The US, Australia, Germany etc.

    A 'civil servant' (in the UK at least) is usually more of a white-collar role/job as opposed to a blue-collar.

    An 'official' can be any representative of a company, body or government department.
  4. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    It depends on the country.

    I currently work for the state government, and I used to work for the federal government. In Australian parlance I am a "public servant".

    If I did similar work in Britain, I would be a "civil servant".

    No-one says "state employee" as a general term in Australia. If you used that expression here, people would think that you worked for the state government.

    People here talk about "government employees". It is common for people here to say "I work for the government."

    Officially, any one who is employed under the Public Service Act is a public servant. Everyone from the head of a Department or Ministry right down to the person who sorts the mail is a public servant.

    People who work for city councils, town councils or shire councils are not public servants.
  5. Monkey F B I Senior Member

    Acton, MA
    English - USA
    Ah, good point Brioche.

    When I said that "state employee" was just the general term, I meant the general term for someone who works for the state...

  6. gasman Senior Member

    Canada, English
    As far as I am aware, a "civil servant" is a person employed by a government, at whatever level, to assist in running the non-political aspects of government. At least that is the theory, but those who enjoy watching "Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister" might have a different opinion.
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Within the UK, a civil servant is someone employed directly by a government department. Civil servants come in a very wide range of pay grades, from the very lowest.

    Those employed by other public sector organisations (for example councils, the NHS, schools) are public servants.

    Official is a fairly meaningless term, often used to refer to an anonymous spokesperson.
    Ministers are often accompanied by their officials - a body of people who may well include a top-ranking civil servant and various underlings down to whoever organises the ministerial diary.
  8. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    I would say that your dictionary is wrong.

    In American English, a "state employee" would be someone employed not by a municipal government, nor by the national government, but by the government of one of the fifty states. A clerk in a motor vehicle office, for example, would be a state employee, but a clerk in a federal courthouse, or a city agency, would not be one.

    A "civil servant" would be anyone in civil service, ranging from the clerks mentioned above, through police officers and firefighters, on up to the mayor or the governor.

    Most speakers of AE would think of an "official" (that is, someone who occupies some office) as probably higher ranking than a "civil servant". It would be odd to call the Secretary of the Treasury a "civil servant", but it would not be odd to call him a "government official".
  9. PMS-CC Senior Member

    I agree completely. Technically, someone could be all three simultaneously: a lieutenant governor could be a "state employee" (this would matter more in terms of insurance or healthcare categories than public perception), an official (of the state government), and a civil servant (especially if he/she were trying to show humility in a speech).

    In actual usage, we'd call the lieutenant-governor an elected official, and seldom use "state employee" or "civil servant" to describe his/her position.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2008
  10. ruthcaher Member

    Spain Spanish
    what's the difference (if any) between this two terms? I'm about to work in public schools. In Spain we need to take an examination to work at public schools and the governmet becomes our employer... so am i a Government employee or a civil servant? or both... :eek:


  11. platypuck

    platypuck Senior Member

    Zamora, Spain
    Spain Spanish
    If you pass the competitive examinations you become a civil servant (funcionario). I'm playing this by ear, but I believe a government employee doesn't exactly go through these examinations.
  12. 221100 Senior Member

    Not an easy one!

    Civil servants are state (or government) employees, but not all state employees are civil servants. A teacher or a nurse or a worker in a nationalised industry - these are state employees, but they are not civil servants.

    A civil servant is employed, usually in an administrative role in an office in one of the government ministries. So, although indirectly a teacher is employed by the Department for Education, he is not a civil servant as he does not work in an office and is not an administrator).

    Having said that, in films, I have heard Q (head of MI5) refer to James Bond as a civil servant.
  13. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    A "government employee" can work for any branch of government, at any national, regional or local level. Most teachers are government employees in my country, but most nurses are not (since most hospitals are privately-run).

    "Civil servant" is a subset of "government employee", but it is a very squishy term -- meaning that it is hard to define. Sometimes, I have heard the term used to refer to anyone who is in public service (i.e. any government employee); while other times, I have heard it used to refer only to employees of the U.S. State Department, who take entrance examinations to qualify for service.
  14. platypuck

    platypuck Senior Member

    Zamora, Spain
    Spain Spanish
    What 221100 makes a lot of sense to me. And I also remember the thing about Jamesy.

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