What’s the difference between clever and smart?

If we dictionary it we get the following:

cleverquick to understand, learn, and devise or apply ideas: intelligent (Oxford Languages)

smarthaving or showing a quick-witted intelligence (Oxford Languages)

When we look at it on the surface, it appears that these are related- it appears that they are virtually the same. However, when I think about these two words, I don’t necessarily think of them the same way.

When I think of smart, I think of someone who is teachable- they can sit in a classroom, or read a book, they will absorb the knowledge and you will be able to question them about it. But I don’t necessarily know if smart equates with being able to make conclusions and think independently. My Husband is book smart- I’ve watched him study for his Master’s degrees, and I know he can read and answer test questions. However, he’s not so great at thinking outside the box, or forming new ideas. He’s not so great at making independent conclusions that haven’t been tested before.

Now, when I think of clever, I think of someone who may or may not have done well at school. They might score a high test grade, or an abysmally low one- sometimes they just can’t get what is on the page or lecture. However, people that are clever notice things that others don’t- they are able to see outside the box; they are able to take practical and learned knowledge and come to an independent conclusion about something. Clever people break ground.

I clearly think that clever and smart are not the same- that there are subtle nuances that distinguish the two, and I would use the words differently when describing people both in person and on the page.

But what about you? How do you define the words? Do you think there are differences or are these words interchangable?

Discuss:

87 thoughts on “Clever v Smart

  1. This is a slice and dice sure to smart the parsing part of my brainpan so I’m tempted to pass…but no… play I must…and just to note I’m neither the words in question I strain to refrain from mixed metaphors but that’s always a bore …..

    For sure clever and smart are closer than kissing cousins but I like the forbidden love of aptitude and astute here…

    And to striptease the current state of digital discourse the clever are prone to life hack while the smart often own the application. And not just in a proprietary sense…in a total command of the discipline way, which often leads the smart to adopting the work arounds the clever has conjured de facto and incorporating those insights smartly and once again to be made de facto.

    So …there ya go LA. Problem solved.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Just my observation: if your husband is book smart, he might also be clever as he is still able to a)ski b) think outside by box as he is likely in his late 50’s , early 60’s and still working and going strong in a major metropolitan area. I would say clever and smart are similar for some.

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    1. There are people who are brilliant at taking a formula and entering the variables, and there are those who create the formulas. They may or may not be the same person

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    1. My daughter goes to school with some gifted athletes. While they might approach genius level on the court or field, that might not translate into writing a research paper

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      1. Well, many athletes are known for thinking outside of the box and are amazing. I grew up in ski country and am familiar with Manhattan. To navigate both as you get older and into your 60’s is an admirable feat.

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      2. Those athletes might be clever but not smart. Hand eye coordination isn’t discernible on a standardized test

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      3. This is a great conversation we are having this morning on my way out. To me, the most important skill is adaptability and these athletes were clever to convert one skill to another and adapt also to the playing field and then move on from sports. If you can’t hack an environment or if you understand the environment is not your type and will ultimately bring you heart ache, you move on by leaving or you adapt. To stay in one field or adapt to another is for me the ultimate cleverness.

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      4. Were they clever to adapt? Adapting is a skill, as is resilience, and then there’s pragmatism. You may, or may not be clever, even if you are all these other things. And while some can be clever and smart, they do not necessarily coexist. Some are clever and not smart. Some are smart and not clever. And some are neither clever nor smart. But I think there’s a difference between clever and smart

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      5. I have noticed clever/shady aligned in questions on the internet and in some of the crime stories/mysteries I read. You put me on the spot…but I have noticed this. A character might even say , “oh, they think they are very clever” and perhaps mean it snidely or ‘watch them closely.’ I do like my mysteries! In fact, I am going to enjoy one now: Two Days in Lisbon….so intriguing, you never see the twist coming! Definitely recommend. Good night.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Wow! I have NEVER thought of clever as being shady. Clever to me is innovative, creative, astute,or brilliant. Shady to me is a personality flaw rather than an intelligence thing. It refers to someone who has questionable behavior. I do not equate the two.

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      7. Well, this makes our writing different….I can think of a little English Lady Like Thatcher spouting, “Well isn’t he a clever lad.” sardonically glancing around with melodrama.

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      8. But that doesn’t mean the definition still doesn’t mean clever as smart. You’re talking irony or sarcasm

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      9. You’re also assuming my husband is in his 60s. He’s five years younger than me and I’m not in my sixties.

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      10. I never said effort in any of this. All things require effort. But people can be smart in one area and woefully lacking in something else. I can figure out probability in my head but don’t ask me to divide 240 by 18 without paper and pen

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      11. I would agree with this. Being people smart is different skill from someone good with numbers. If they are lucky, they are gifted in both which dealing with people skills and numbers successfully in my book makes them clever. Dealing with people, you often need to think outside the box. No one story is the same, so you have to adapt, sometimes especially to reach them or to manage them if you are a supervisor or teacher or just any customer service job.

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      12. Was it your husband who ski’d for a week wearing sunglasses with a sticker still attached to the lense ? Book Smart Maybe but….😁

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I will give you my answer based on my experience as an educator. I taught gifted education. (Students with an IQ of 130 and above and are in the top 1 and 2 percent intellectually).

    Smart refers to IQ. A measurable level of intelligence. Clever is one who uses that intelligence in unique and innovative ways. A person may be brilliant in specific measurable areas. A mathematically gifted student may process things differently from a verbally talented individual. Our brains, our learning styles, and the way we process information is uniquely different.

    Clever can refer to witty, innovative, humorous, artistic etc. And is not necessarily measurable on a test. Smart is being bright. (Having an above average IQ). While true intelligence cannot actually be measurable, we create a scale and attempt to use numbers so we can better meet students’ educational needs.

    So….These are my thoughts after 36 years of teaching . By the way, Many gifted students are not great test takers. But can be out of the box thinkers. I’ve worked with genius level math students who couldn’t create a poem if their life depended on it. And I have had the pleasure of teaching individuals whose left and right hemispheres of the brain interact in such a way that they can do everything well!

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Well stated!! And yes…there are different types of intelligence…I think we tend to forget that someone can be a brilliant chess player but is unable to successfully make Mac and cheese from a box

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  4. I’d say I see things much the same as you do. There’s a subtle difference, with clever implying a decided ability to use resources beyond the textbook.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. My children represent both. My son is book smart, got almost perfect SATs, valedictorian, etc. But his freshman year in college he called me to ask how to get his COSTCO run home on his bike. My daughter was an scholarship athlete and was good in school but not as outstanding as her brother. She “got” people, situations and was super organized with her life in general.

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  6. I agree with your distinction, and have seen some great alternatives to describing the differences between the two in the comments. Himself is clever whereas I’m smart. I’ve been called clever, but I know what I’m good at is learning. He has the enviable ability to apply his brain to a wide range of subject matters, including stuff in which he’s had no previous knowledge, education or training, and then be able to understand and engage with the thought process of experts in the field. It’s the quality I find most attractive in a man, so I’m a lucky girl 🙂

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  7. I think Lesley’s definitions of smart vs clever is very good.
    My dad was very book smart mathematically. I tended to think of him as sort of a the stereotypical nerd who lacked people skills. OTOH, before I was born he joined the Navy after high school and went to college on the GI bill. So that must have taken a certain amount of grit. He had little emotional or financial support from his parents.
    I definitely agree there are multiple types of intelligence. My husband definitely had more awareness of the outside world–weather, wildlife etc.. And he seemed to have a better “eye” when it came to thinking about/planning a gardening project or home improvement project. I was better at things like knowing the answers to Jeopardy or winning a Trivial Pursuit game.

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    1. Thank you TWF. After working with so many children over the years it was fascinating to watch how children’s brains work. I had this one student who was extraordinarily spatially gifted but was on the “spectrum”. When he was screened for autism his IQ was found to be incredibly high so they put him in my class. However, he often had problems understanding certain concepts. (It was a gifted 4th grade and I was preparing the children for the state writing test). I was doing a fun lesson on idioms. Poor kid came up to me and cried because he just didn’t get the concept. I grabbed a Lego figure from my desk that one of the kids made, and I used it to SHOW “blow your top”. Told him the real meaning ( lose your temper) and then removed the head of the lego figure. A lightbulb went off in his head. He was so excited. The next day he brought in a large box where instead of writing the idioms down, he made all the idioms into Lego displays . He built incredible models that were fabulous! The child was spatially brilliant . He saw things in a way that others couldn’t . (He was a was a wiz at puzzles, maps etc). He’s one of those brilliant people who can decode complex puzzles, figure out map strategies, and would be an asset to the military. Or could be a great architect.. He just uses a different part of the brain than a child who becomes a journalist.

      My own children were both put in gifted classes in elementary school. Thats the reason II went back and got my masters certification in gifted education after my kids were tested and put in those programs. It was fascinating to see my oldest son ( left brain,organized, made check lists in kindergarten, and was reading at three.), and his younger brother who was disorganized, often get his backpack for school in the morning and not realize he had forgotten to put his pants on. Lol But he could create anything in his mind and has a photographic visual and auditory memory. My Sons are Both very different and yet both were tested in school coming out as highly gifted. Their IQ scores were only two points apart. (Which is approximately a one question difference ). BUT their Intellectual areas of expertise were in totally different areas. The breakdown on their tests were different. (To this day I never told them their scores.) But scores don’t record the way they process information.

      Liked by 5 people

  8. Interesting. I’ve always viewed those words as having their definitions reversed. Clever, to me, is having or showing a quick wit, while smart means quick to understand or learn. Even if I’m completely off base, I don’t view them as interchangeable terms at all.

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  9. Both can be used in negative sense too – smart meaning someone trying to hide one’s wrong doing by acting smart. Clever can also imply a certain amount of cunningness.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Hmmmm, I see it your way, but I’ve thought of the two words in alternative ways, as well. Smart does speak to me of intelligence. But I know smart people who are absolutely clueless about people/situations. No intuition at all. Clever to me doesn’t mean smart at all, but knowing how to ‘get around things,’ how to understand the ‘system’ of society and culture, and sometimes how to be too “clever” for their own good. (I’m thinking of some teenage boys – they’re clever, but not smart enough to know they’re not as smart as they think they are). I’m smart, but intuitive. I don’t think I have any “clever” in me. ;-0

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I just looked up synonyms for smart. Didn’t find clever amongst them.

    The list is – agile, astute, bold, brainy, bright, brilliant, canny, crafty, good, nimble, quick, resourceful, sharp, shrewd, slick, wise, active, energetic, ache, throb.

    Now I really am confused. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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