Clever vs smart

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Silvia, Apr 28, 2005.

  1. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member

    Can anyone enlighten me about the nuances/differences between clever and smart? What about intelligent then?

    Thank you!
  2. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    From my (UK) point of view "clever" is the usual term "intelligent" is a slightly more formal word, but the nuance is slight. In the UK you do hear "smart" to mean "clever" but it is an Americanism. I think if we did use it the nuance would be "savvy" "can handle him/herself". So an American would say "Lisa Simpson is smart" but we would say that she is "clever".

    Of course, "smart" is the usual UK word to mean "well dressed" or "tidy" or "well cared for".
  3. VenusEnvy

    VenusEnvy Senior Member

    Maryland, USA
    English, United States
    From what I know, smart is an informal way to say intelligent.

    Clever, on the other hand, can mean intelligent, sly, tricky, quick-witted, shrewd, cunning. To me, clever is more than simply being intelligent.
    People often say: "I'm as clever as a fox."
  4. piloya

    piloya Senior Member

    I think someone can be clever without being very intelligent. I know many people I wouldn't describe as "intelligent" but "clever". The Venus' example about the fox illustrates this.
    Is bright also an synomim for "clever"?
  5. VenusEnvy

    VenusEnvy Senior Member

    Maryland, USA
    English, United States
    As far as I know, bright is a synonym for smart/intelligent.
  6. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member

    I'm more confused than before asking the question!

    They all look like synonyms to me... only intelligent is less used, just like most terms of Latin origin. Apart from that...
  7. piloya

    piloya Senior Member

    Silvia, don't worry, they're synonims and ïf I have understood it alright, the use of one or the other depends on whether you're in America or in England. :)
  8. Aeneas Member

    U. S. - English
    In America, they are not quite synonyms. They are closely related, but often deal with different aspects of a person's personality.
    For instance, in a recent history class we discussed JFK's intelligence- use of reason and ability to recall and analyze information, related to intellectual prowess- in decision making and planning, but we decided that in dealing with the press it was his clever- quick-witted and often humorous- demeanor that endeared him to the American public.
    I would consider smart to be a less formal, but only slightly more common term for intelligent.
    I would also liken 'clever' to a less annoying and more complimentary version of the British 'cheeky.' A 'cheeky' person over here is called a smart ass.
  9. piloya

    piloya Senior Member

    Hi Aeneas,
    sorry but I didn't get how clever and cheeky are related
  10. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Tim has made the AE/BE distinctions clear. Here is a view of AE usage, from most to least formal:

    1. Intelligent: implies rational potency
    2. bright: common speech, means intelligent
    3. smart: common speech, just a bit lower register than 'bright', means intelligent
    Any of the above may imply--judgement, insight, wisdom, acumen

    Clever, in AE, implies cunning, quick-witted, sharp, possibly sneaky. It's often used to denote "street smarts" as opposed to rational power.
  11. piloya

    piloya Senior Member

    Aha, I see :)
  12. Aeneas Member

    U. S. - English
    I think cheeky is what they would call a child or someone younger, who is always prepared with some type of (often disrespectful) quip or unwanted retort that is meant to seem humorous to his peers, at the expense of the one in the more authoritative role.
    i.e. In the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, the Fab 4 are in a traincar with an older gentleman. It is apparant that they are bothering him with their loud music and he is getting frustrated that they won't go along with what he wants. He exclaims, "I won the War for your sort!" And John, who I consider the most clever, and also cheeky of the four, quips, "I'll bet you're sorry you won." To which the older man replies, "Don't be cheeky!"
    Does that help?
  13. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Yes, the funny thing here is that apparently clever/smart are the opposite in BA/AE (although of course already very close in meaning). In the UK Lisa Simpson is certainly clever, but because she is a nerd she is not smart. If I understand our American friends correctly exactly the opposite is true there. She is certainly smart but not clever.

    Silvia - I hope that hasn't made things even worse!! At the end of the day, I think you can rest assured that you can pretty much use these terms interchangeably with only the slightest of difference. Just stick to clever in the UK and smart in the US and you can't go too wrong.
  14. danzomicrobo Member

    Maybe this will help.

    In the U.S., I think that being clever has a connotation with problem solving.

    I have never heard anyone say, "That was a smart solution." I have heard the term "intelligent solution", but only rarely. More often, I hear the term "clever solution".

    If I were ranking them, I would put a clever solution above an intelligent solution.

    For this reason, I think calling someone clever indicates any ability to come up with superior solutions, which may or may not correspond to describing the person as intelligent.

    I hope I haven't confused the situation more.
  15. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    If Silvia were trying to point out the clear difference between AE and BE, this thread would be a very clever way to do it. Smart lady, that Silvia.
  16. jacinta Senior Member

    USA English
    I agree with this. I would use clever to describe a person who can think on his feet, use his head, come up with a solution, to get himself out of a problematic situation.

    "Oh, no. Bob just called. His bike was stolen! How's he going to get home?"
    "Don't worry. He's a clever boy. He'll think of something."
  17. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    For the most part, clever, when delivered positively, means resourceful, someone who has more than just intelligence as an asset. In ambigious situations, where postive or negative value judgement can determined only be context, clever is cunning, crafty, sly, (in italian cleverness is furbizia, as you probably know).

  18. te gato

    te gato Senior Member

    Calgary, Alberta
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    I would rank them as..

    Intelligent..having a lot of grey matter and knowing how to use it...analyzes everything to death..has the 25 Academic degrees hanging on the wall..
    Smart..some of the grey matter is on vacation..does not analyze everything ...only has 7 Academic degrees...
    Clever..a little more grey matter missing...but quick-witted..quick to think on their feet...maybe 2 Academic degrees
    Bright..more vacation time...1 Academic degree..but had to work their butt off to get it...
    Dimwit...Ahhhuumm....yea it's cold here..ahumm maybe 2 degrees...

    No intent to insult!!!

    te gato;)
  19. ElenaofTroy

    ElenaofTroy Senior Member

    State of Mexico, Mexico
    An American just explained me... they use the terms "street smart" and "book smart", so smart has more to do with experience... Clever is something you were born with, like the ability to solve something fast.
    Are we correct?

    Thank you!
  20. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    "Clever: showing skill or resourcefulness; marked by wit or ingenuity; deftness, or great aptitude; adroit, implying a skillful use of expedients to achieve one's purpose in spite of difficulties; cunning, implying great skill in constructing or creating; ingenious, suggesting the power to invent or discover new ways of accomplishing something."

    "I wish the smart people in the financial services industries would stop being so clever. Sonner or later, somebody comes along and figures out how to figure out what's going on."
  21. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member

    Thank you all :)
  22. xarruc Senior Member

    Here are my nuances on the various types of cleverness:

    Intelligent (intelligence) - ability to analyse well
    Bright - ability to analyse well and quickly
    Smart (smartness) - "on the ball", quick or knowledgeable
    Knowledgeable - Knows a lot
    Witty (wittiness)- can quickly think of funny things, but not necessarily solve problems.
    Wise (wisdom)- Good judgement through experience or knowledge
    Savvy - Streetwise or knowledgeable and smart regarding human behaviour (unless qualified with a technical area (eg computer-savvy)
    Cunning - able to maniupulate situations or people to own benefit, perhaps against the interests of the 'victim'
    Logical - can sort through complex problems in a deliberate manner

    To me all these are different types of cleverness. A clever person can be good at any one or all of these types, you can be cunning but not logical, or knowledgeable but not witty, although of course they all overlap a bit.

    As for cheekiness. To me cheekiness is boldness and wittiness combined, but I wouldn't call it a subtype of cleverness.
  23. Zelphiacat New Member

    When I googled the VERY same question as OP, I was thinking of "clever" as in a in repartee.

    Does one have to be smart/intelligent to be clever in this sense? (There were many un-educated authors, for instance) Quick-witted (clever) nonetheless.

    Where does sense of humor fit in? Now, that's relevant.

    So maybe I just answered my question. You don't have to be smart to have a sense of humor (i.e. clever).
    Perhaps it's all in the execution (which might require some intelligence)

    Oh. nevermind.
    Last edited: May 4, 2009
  24. nebulai New Member

    English- America
    as As far as I know, smart means you know stuff, and clever means you can figure stuff out.

    for For example, a smart person would look at a test and say "why, i know Why, I know the inventor of the zipper was whitcomb L judson Whitcomb L Judson", while a clever person would say "from From all the other tests I've taken, [S]i know[/S] I know the teacher has a tendancy to make answers either B or C at the end of the test, and i know I know it's not C since the poster on the wall in my homeroom class last year said 'george crum George Crum invented the potato chip, so the answer must be b, whitcomb L judson Whitcomb L Judson.' "
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 30, 2013
  25. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    In spite of smart meaning 'clever' being labelled as being more AmE, I thought it was interesting to note that smartphone and smart card are now unremarkable BrE terms too. For street-smart BrE speakers might still say streetwise.

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