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Colleague vs. Coworker: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 6, 2023
A colleague often implies professional equals, while a coworker is anyone you work with regardless of position. Both refer to people you work alongside.

Key Differences

The term colleague often suggests a professional association with someone who holds a similar role or position. It connotes a sense of camaraderie among professionals within a specific field or industry. For instance, doctors might refer to other doctors as colleagues. Coworker, on the other hand, has a more general meaning and refers to anyone working in the same place or for the same employer.
Colleague is also a term that tends to be used more in professional settings. For example, academics might call each other colleagues when referring to their mutual involvement in a university or institution. In contrast, coworker is neutral and encompasses individuals working together regardless of the job type or professional level. You could be a manager, and still, call the janitor your coworker.
Another nuance between colleague and coworker lies in the level of mutual respect or acknowledgment of professional standing. When you call someone a colleague, there's an implicit recognition of their professional standing or expertise in relation to yours. With coworker, the emphasis is more on the shared workspace or employer rather than the specific role or professional parity.
While both colleague and coworker are nouns describing someone you work with, colleague often implies a deeper level of association or collaboration on projects or initiatives. It's not just about sharing a workplace; it's about sharing professional experiences or endeavors. Coworker, in its basic essence, simply means someone you work with, without the depth of professional association implied by colleague.

Comparison Chart

Professional Parity

Often implies professional equals
Can be anyone you work with


More common in professional settings
Neutral and applicable in any work setting


Implies mutual professional recognition
Neutral, about sharing a workplace

Depth of Association

Implies deeper association or collaboration
Simply means someone you work with


Academics, doctors, lawyers, etc.
Any job type or professional level

Colleague and Coworker Definitions


Someone of similar professional rank or position.
The attorney met with her colleagues to discuss the case.


Someone you work alongside in the same place.
My coworker helps me whenever I struggle with a task.


A fellow professional in the same field.
As a scientist, Dr. Smith often collaborated with her colleagues on research projects.


Any person employed by the same company or employer.
He's a coworker from a different department.


A person you work with, often of similar standing.
She introduced me to her colleague from the marketing department.


An individual with whom you share a work environment.
She's not just a coworker, but a good friend.


A peer within a specific professional setting.
The professor was respected by his colleagues at the university.


Someone you collaborate with at your job.
I'll ask my coworker if he can cover my shift.


An associate in a shared profession or endeavor.
As writers, they were colleagues, often critiquing each other's work.


A fellow employee, irrespective of their role or position.
She's been my coworker for five years now.


A fellow member of a profession, staff, or academic faculty; an associate.


One who works with another; a fellow worker.


A fellow member of a profession, staff, academic faculty or other organization; an associate.


Somebody with whom one works.
He heard from a coworker that the company planned to merge those departments.


To unite or associate with another or with others.
Young Fortinbras,/ Holding a weak supposal of our worth/...Colleagued with the dream of his advantage,/...hath not failed to pester us with message/ Importing the surrender of those lands/Lost by his father. - Hamlet (Act I, Scene 2)


What does colleague typically imply?

Colleague often suggests a professional equal or someone in a similar role.

Is colleague more formal than coworker?

Generally, colleague is more associated with professional settings and peers.

How does coworker differ from colleague?

Coworker is a broader term, referring to anyone you work with, regardless of position.

Can a manager refer to a subordinate as a colleague?

Yes, if they view them as a professional equal in discussions or collaborations.

Is it possible for a teacher to call another teacher a coworker?

Yes, but they might more often use "colleague" to emphasize shared professional experience.

Can two people in different companies be colleagues?

Yes, especially if they're in the same profession or field.

Is every colleague also a coworker?

Typically yes, but not every coworker is necessarily viewed as a colleague.

How do I choose between colleague and coworker in a sentence?

Consider the context; if emphasizing professional parity, use colleague. Otherwise, coworker is broader.

Can two freelancers working on a project call each other colleagues?

Yes, especially if they view each other as professional equals in the collaboration.

Does colleague always mean you work directly with someone?

No, it can refer to someone in the same field or profession, even if you don't work together directly.

Is it okay to use coworker casually?

Yes, coworker is a neutral term and can be used in both formal and casual settings.

Can a colleague be someone you've never met in person?

Yes, especially in global companies or fields where professionals collaborate remotely.

Would you call someone from a different department a coworker?

Yes, a coworker can be anyone working for the same employer, regardless of department.

Can you call someone from another branch of your company a coworker?

Yes, if you both work for the same company, regardless of location.

Can you call a remote team member a coworker?

Absolutely, being a coworker isn't dependent on physical proximity.

Do both terms have the same level of intimacy?

Not necessarily. Colleague might imply closer professional ties, while coworker is more neutral.

Does colleague imply a certain level of respect?

Often, yes. It implies recognition of mutual professional standing.

Is coworker limited to corporate settings?

No, coworker can be used in any work environment.

Is coworker a relatively newer term?

Compared to colleague, coworker is a more modern term but both have been in use for some time.

Can two researchers from different fields call each other colleagues?

If they collaborate or share professional interactions, they might consider each other colleagues.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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