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Is there any difference between the meaning of the words salary and wage?

I have played with both on Google Translate: for some languages they have the different translations but for others they translate to the same word (my language included, brazilian portuguese).

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There is quite a difference, both in the denotation and the connotation, at least in US usage. (Being an American speaker, I can't say for certain what differences might exist overseas.)

"Wage" refers to payment in exchange for work for a particular period of time. In most American work arrangements, a person who's paid a wage is going to be paid hourly. That person will be paid based on hours worked in a particular week. Usually, a person in this kind of job will not get to set his or her own schedule; aside from high-end consultants (who are generally considered self-employed), wage payment is most common in service industries: jobs like in retail stores, or waiters, or tradespeople. If people in these jobs are not given enough hours, they may have trouble earning enough money; on the other hand, they are at least usually eligible for overtime.

"Salary" by contrast is an amount that a person is paid in exchange for their employment. Number of hours is not fixed, and most employers will always take more if you'll give more! Salaried employees are not generally eligible for overtime. Depending on the workplace, there may be strict hourly minimums, times that a person has to be at work, etc. but in other workplaces, a salaried employee may have more leeway setting his or her schedule. Overall, salary arrangements are more common in office jobs or in the business world, where results are more difficult to measure on a per-hour basis and where workers are considered somewhat less interchangeable.

So, "wage" implies a more blue-collar or proletarian employment situation, while "salary" implies a white-collar office job. While the literal distinction is fairly easy to define, it implies a whole range of other distinctions between people that are closely related to the US class structure.

See also this article for more information.

  • I see. Here in Brazil we have a minimum salary rather than a minimum wage. I guess it's less usual to find hourly paid workers around here. – talles Sep 5 '14 at 15:44
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While Tiercelet's conclusion also applies to the UK:

So, "wage" implies a more blue-collar or proletarian employment situation, while "salary" implies a white-collar office job,

generally wages are paid weekly and salary is paid monthly.

Wages used to be paid in cash (which is still possible these days but a lot more difficult); salary always by cheque or bank transfer. You can still get wages envelopes which have some limited "see-throughness" to show that there's cash inside and allow it to be counted without breaking the seal. Usually, gross pay and deductions are noted on the envelope rather than on a separate payslip.

Waged employees in the UK have a contract which specifies what they can expect to be paid each week for their contracted ["basic"] hours, and as a rule overtime is available within European law.

I'm salaried. My employment contract specifies an amount per year, paid monthly by bank transfer. I'm eligible for overtime within the terms of my contract. Others in my company are expected to work over and above their contracted hours in order to get the job done, and aren't entitled to additional payment. I get a payslip detailing how the amount I receive is calculated.

This doesn't mean that wages can't be used in place of salary: I might comment "my wages don't cover that", for example. It would be unusual for salary to be used instead of wages though. There's also usage like "The wages of sin is death" where wages is used for any recompense; but that's quite specialised (and possibly restricted to that particular quote).

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    FWIW, every position I've held in the US (both hourly and salaried) has paid on a two-week pay period basis. – Brian S Sep 4 '14 at 21:50
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    Wel there you go. It was worth posting what happens in Britain :-) – Andrew Leach Sep 4 '14 at 21:59
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    @Brian S: I don't think the time intervals in which you get paid have as much to do with the distinction as the way they are calculated. Salary = usually what you are paid in a year (it's divided by the interval to calculate payment), wages = what you are paid for a specific amount of time. In the US, Most of my salary positions have been paid weekly or monthly, while hourly wage jobs have paid me bi-weekly, but just because they are paid on a different schedule doesn't designate one or the other is a salary or wage. – stephenbayer Sep 4 '14 at 23:22
  • I know people in Britain (which is where I've lived my whole life) who are on a wage but paid monthly, fortnightly, or four-weekly. And who are paid weekly. They all exist. Traditionally a wage would be paid weekly, but that hasn't been the usual practice for quite some time. – SamBC Feb 8 at 12:43
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In the U.S., wages are calculated on an hourly basis for blue collar workers. If they work more than 40 hours a week, they get paid "overtime.

Salaries are calculated on a yearly basis for office, or white collar workers. You can work eight, ten or twelve hours a day for the same salary.

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This thread got me thinking about common usage of these two words — salary and wage — and the answers provided were definitely in line with my experience with these two words, but then I got to thinking, after reading some of them, Haven't I heard "annual wage" used before? And then Do we ever say "hourly salary?"

So I paid a visit to Google's Ngram viewer and searched for combinations of "salary" and "wage" with "annual" and "hourly." Due to some comments made about American English versus British English, I also filtered for that. You'll see what I discovered in the image below:

For the record, I was pleased to see that "hourly salary" scrapes the floor of this chart because it sounds really off to me. As for the rest, you can see that there are some differences in usage. For starters, it looks as if Americans might talk about wage and salary a bit more than their British counterparts (or at least write about it a bit more). But other than that, the only real difference I noticed is that Americans might be more likely to use the phrase "annual wage" a bit more than Brits. In terms of just the two words alone, however — salary and wage — the word "wage" seems to be taking a sudden turn downward. Note the decline of its use in books for both American English and British:

As I mentioned earlier, I agreed with most, if not all, of what I read in this thread, but I have not yet found an authoritative source that strictly limits "wage" to "blue collar" work. As just one example, I took a look at the Wikipedia page for wage as well as wage labour and nowhere on it do I see any mention of "blue collar," but the page for "wage labour" ("labor" in American English) does include this:

... the wage work arrangements of CEOs, professional employees, and professional contract workers are sometimes conflated with class assignments, so that "wage labour" is considered to apply only to unskilled, semi-skilled or manual labour.

I can't know what native tongue a reader of this might speak, so I don't know how well "blue collar" translates for you, especially since the term originated in Iowa, but Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to it that I think most would find interesting. You can link to it here and it's been translated into several different languages, which may be helpful to some.

From personal experience, I know that a guy who works in a bar typically earns a wage, but if he accepts an offer to become a manager, he then makes a salary. What's the difference? With a wage, you get paid for every hour you work; with a salary, you work as much as is needed with no change in pay no matter how much you work. In the restaurant world, I've occasionally heard managers complain that they made more money working for hourly pay. Restaurants aren't the only place where one might go from an hourly wage to an annual salary. It's also common practice in offices and it's usually a real "feather in the cap" to go from an hourly wage to annual pay. It typically means that the powers that be in a company like you and like your work and want you to become a more permanent member of the company. However, even though that annual salary comes with higher pay and more prestige, it also comes with more responsibility, greater expectations, and more of one's time, as many have come to find out too late.

The TL;DR to all of this is that while "salary" and "wage" are pretty interchangeable in common usage, this isn't always the case. It's one of those things that you'll just have to learn as you go and the best way to do this is simply by getting as much exposure to the English language (through both the written and spoken word) as possible.

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