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What is the difference between skilled and skillful? When can I use one, when can I used the other?

  • He is skilled/​skillful.
  • He is a skilled/​skillful musician.
  • (Anything else?)

From the dictionary, I feel they have basically the same meaning, but I couldn’t understand the difference.

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I probably would have asked this question on the new Stack Exchange site for English Language Learners. If you'd like more information about that site or this recommendation, you can read through a couple comments I left earlier today. What I said about "Can I say X?" questions would likely apply to a lot of "What is the difference between X & Y?" questions as well. –  J.R. Feb 25 '13 at 18:49

3 Answers 3

Both words have senses that match:

skilled, “Having or showing skill; skilful”
skillful (or skilful), “possessing skill, skilled”

but skilled has an additional sense as well, “Requiring special abilities or training”, as in (eg) “She works in a skilled trade”.

“He is skillful” can stand alone as a sentence that indicates a person has abilities (either generally or in some area under discussion). I'd not expect to hear “He is skilled” as a sentence by itself, but would expect added detail: eg, “He is skilled in the martial arts.”

“They are skilled musicians” implies they are able to perform music in a skilled manner. “They are skillful musicians” suggests to me that they have good musical skills and are adaptive or flexible.

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Skilled and skillful cover pretty much the same semantic domain; but they are used differently.

Skilled is in origin a past participle, and retains something of that verbal sense: it is used of a person who has acquired skills (a skilled musician, surgeon, cabinetmaker) , or a calling which requires that its practitioners acquire skills (the skilled trades, the skilled professions). There is a tendency (no more) to use it where physical rather than intellectual skills are in play: a barrister is a little more likely than a solicitor to be described as skilled, because his skills lie in performance before an audience.

Skillful may be used similarly; but it may also be used of the works, as skilled may not. We do not speak of performances or surgeries as being skilled but as skillful: these demonstrate or exhibit the skills which the performers or surgeons possess and which are exhibited in the works. For some reason we do not often speak of physical objects as being either skillful or skilled; but we do speak of them as being skilfully made, not skilledly made.

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"Skilled* means "having a lot of training/experience and is the best word to use when talking about workers and laborers."

Skillful means "expert at a particular job, but not necessarily because of training or experience."

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