detective vs investigator

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VSPrasad

Member
India - English
Dictionaries say that the two words are synonymous. The word detective has
a long history in Britain.

http://www.play.com/Books/Books/4-/3311830/Plain-Clothes-and-Sleuths/Product.html

According to my observation through literature, the word investigator either originated or became popular in USA.

I wish to know the difference in the meanings of these two words.
 
  • envie de voyager

    Senior Member
    english-canadian
    There is no difference in the definitions of these words. On some police forces, people use the title detective, on others, they use investigator. This compares to the British rank of constable being the equivalent of the North American rank of officer.
     

    Nodey

    Member
    English United States
    Dictionaries say that the two words are synonymous. The word detective has
    a long history in Britain.

    http://www.play.com/Books/Books/4-/3311830/Plain-Clothes-and-Sleuths/Product.html

    According to my observation through literature, the word investigator either originated or became popular in USA.

    I wish to know the difference in the meanings of these two words.
    Hello,

    I will give you my impression as a native speaker of American English. I'm not basing this on anything more 'scientific' than that.

    The term investigator has a slightly more elegant tone. It also seems to me that it's used more generally than the term detective. In my experience, detective implies police work.

    Another thing you might want to consider is the verb associated with each noun.

    to detect = observe, find, discover, notice
    to investigate = analyze, study, examine

    I hope this was helpful.
     

    BellaDancer

    Senior Member
    Nodey's impression is correct in the context of US criminal law practice.

    In the early 20th century, and in the "Private Eye" genre literature of the time, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler wrote about "private detectives." Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe and the (real life) Pinkerton Detective Agency.

    But now, the people who go out and interview witnesses are investigators. Public defenders offices have investigators on their staffs, as do district (prosecuting) attorneys. And for private lawyers there are private investigation firms.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    "Detective" is a specific title in U.S. police departments for officers who generally work out of uniform and seek to resolve criminal offenses. Obviously, they "investigate." There are also "private detectives," who perform more or less the same function for higher, but do not have powers of arrest.

    "Investigator" is a more generic term for anyone who investigates but might be a job title in some organizations.

    For example, it is common to refer to the officials who investigate aircraft and other transportation accidents to be called "investigators," even though they do not have police powers and are not "detectives." For example:

    Associated Press - July 19, 2009 2:34 PM ET
    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Two investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are helping local officials determine the cause of a collision between two light-rail trains that left dozens of people injured.

    In the U.S., we have the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but the federal officers who are members of that organization are formally called agents, but might be referred to as "federal investigators" in a generic sense. They are not called detectives.

    The words are not synonymous, i.e. interchangeable, in AE usage, no matter what your unidentified dictionary says. As you can see from the above, the usage of the two words is context dependent.
     
    Last edited:

    VSPrasad

    Member
    India - English
    Here are the references which say that the two words are synonymous:

    http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/investigator

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/investigator?r=66

    http://www.answers.com/topic/investigator


    The word investigator has special meanings apart from detective:

    "a scientist who devotes himself to doing research "

    http://www.rhymezone.com/r/rhyme.cgi?Word=investigator

    clinical investigator, hughes investigator, psychic investigator, commercial investigator, Medical Investigator.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Investigator


    I am a retired professor of Andhra University. At our university, the person who takes up a research project
    is called an investigator. If there is a team, the chief is called Principal investigator.

    As suggested by one member here, the job of a detective is a police work. The job of an investigator should go
    beyond it. I will try to explain it this way:

    "When some thing happens, three questions arise - what,
    how and why.

    You will get an answer to the first question within a
    short period of time. It is physical in nature.

    You have to spend more time to answer the second
    question. It is mental in nature.

    Different persons may give different answers for the
    third question. But you will never get a true answer
    for it - it is philosophical in nature."

    The job of informer is "what". The job of detective is "how". The job of investigator is trying to
    go beyond "how" and finding as much about "why".
     

    Cypherpunk

    Senior Member
    US, English
    While that may be true at your university, it is not true of universities in the US, and I don't believe it's true of the ones in the UK, either. Unfortunately, Principal Investigator is the term often given to the detective in charge of a particular case. I agree with the others, and you, that detective tends to be a police title or role (private detective notwithstanding), but there are numerous civilian agencies and companies that employ investigators. Others have mentioned attorneys, the NTSB, and the FBI, but business also employs investigators. Insurance companies, high-end accounting firms, and other businesses that regularly need to verify that another person or business is acting honestly, fairly, or legally have investigators, as well.
     
    While that may be true at your university, it is not true of universities in the US, and I don't believe it's true of the ones in the UK, either.
    I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with, Cypherpunk, but in the US "investigator" is a common word for the leader of a scientific study. "Principal investigator" (usually abbreviated PI) is the usual title for the leader of a funded scientific study, such as a grant from the NIH. "Investigator," "PI," and the like are everyday words in the biomedical sciences.
     

    Cypherpunk

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I'm disagreeing that the head of any university research project is called Principal Investigator. As VSPrasad said:
    At our university, the person who takes up a research project is called an investigator. If there is a team, the chief is called Principal investigator.
     
    I'm disagreeing that the head of any university research project is called Principal Investigator. As VSPrasad said:
    At our university, the person who takes up a research project is called an investigator. If there is a team, the chief is called Principal investigator.
    OK. Perhaps the practices differs from institution to institution, but the same terminology that VSPrasad described is used at the university where I work: Leaders of research projects are called "principal investigators." Research grant applications also routinely use this term.
     

    BellaDancer

    Senior Member
    I question whether these practices differ very much between institutions in the US. I agree that for scientific protocols the primary researcher is the Principal Investigator. That is the term familiar to the federal government agencies as well.

    With respect to criminal investigation, we have covered the territory. A detective certainly investigates, and in current usage Detective is a title and rank in a police agency. Investigators also investigate, and are called Investigators in the legal realm if they are not part of a government police agency.
     
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