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The question is quite clear.

Is there any difference (semantically or connotationally, if that's a word) between nude and naked? Nude seems more formal to me, but I'm not quite sure.

Interesting: Merriam-Webster link from naked, to nude

Definition of NAKED 1. not covered by clothing : nude

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Well, you can say appropriately, "He's in the nude," but you cannot say, "He's in the naked"! You can say, "The artist is famous for his sensual nudes," but you cannot say, "The artist is famous for his sensual nakeds"! Nude, then, does seem a bit more formal. Its connotation has a "softer" edge to it, whereas "naked" is a bit edgier to the ear, perhaps because of the hard "k" sound. Saying with astonishment "My goodness, he's completely naked!" seems quite appropriate, whereas "My goodness, he's completely nude!" does not. It's hard to say why. –  rhetorician Mar 8 '13 at 15:09
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I don't know why--perhaps the -ed ending blocks it--but "nude" seems more nounish (or nounable). –  horatio Mar 8 '13 at 17:54
    
"He's completely nude!" sounds fine to me. Might be a British English thing. "He's in the nip" is equally fine :) –  nxx Feb 3 at 23:30

14 Answers 14

up vote 51 down vote accepted

Nude is by and large used only to refer to the absence of clothing or any covering in general.

  • Nude beaches
  • Nude model

Naked, on the other hand, has far wider connotations than nude. You can look them up here.

  • Naked eye
  • Naked truth
  • Naked to one's enemies

It's also worth noting that naked is a rather technical word in life sciences, which is not the case with nude.

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In the U.S., we have nude furniture, meaning unfinished. In the U.K., they have the Naked Chef (simple food, by Jamie Oliver). –  Canis Lupus Mar 8 '13 at 16:50
    
@Jim: Yes and I understand there is also nudity in law referring to cases where evidence is not required. –  Bravo Mar 8 '13 at 16:54
    
I hadn't heard that. Can you elaborate? –  Canis Lupus Mar 8 '13 at 17:00
    
@Jim: See this link. –  Bravo Mar 8 '13 at 17:24
    
+1 Very good distinction drawn. –  Kris Mar 9 '13 at 9:48

Nude is arty, while naked is dirty.

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Reminds me of the old saw about nude means without clothes, nekked means nude and up to no good. –  Affable Geek Mar 8 '13 at 16:45
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I think the quote you're looking for comes from Tom Robbins in Skinny Legs and All: "Naked means you just don't have any clothes on. Nekkid means you don't have any clothes on and you're fixing to get into trouble." –  davidcl Mar 8 '13 at 17:41
    
can't agree. Naked is IMO pretty much synonymous with nude. Might be regional/cultural differences. And looking at search results for either, you get roughly the same percentage porn so the creators and customers of the porn industry certainly don't distinguish :) I'd rather reword it as "nude is a more formal term, naked more casual". –  jwenting Mar 9 '13 at 7:05
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And nekkid is nude but living in a mobile home in a cruddy trailer park. –  Sven Yargs Mar 10 '13 at 1:09
    
To my mind, only kids could be nekkid. Up to no good very probably: it suggests mischief, but not anything dirty. It's not a word I think I'd apply to adults. –  TRiG Nov 13 '13 at 21:21

The Naked and the Nude

Robert Graves

For me, the naked and the nude
(By lexicographers construed
As synonyms that should express
The same deficiency of dress
Or shelter) stand as wide apart
As love from lies, or truth from art.

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;
The Hippocratic eye will see
In nakedness, anatomy;
And naked shines the Goddess when
She mounts her lion among men.

The nude are bold, the nude are sly
To hold each treasonable eye.
While draping by a showman's trick
Their dishabille in rhetoric,
They grin a mock-religious grin
Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;
Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometime nude!

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Ahh! Education and poetry in one answer! :-) –  Kristina Lopez Mar 8 '13 at 16:40
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-1 although it is quite fancy, it makes me lose focus while trying to grasp the gist :( –  Terry Li Mar 8 '13 at 19:21
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I have to go with Terry Li. It's a great poem, but it's not quite a good answer. –  Bram Vanroy Mar 8 '13 at 20:03
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It may not be a "good" answer, but it is a brilliant answer. +1 –  Dave Mar 8 '13 at 20:58
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This is a beautiful but, for many, entirely unhelpful answer. If someone has to ask what the difference is between nude and naked, they will probably have to ask a lot more questions just to understand the poem. This is an answer for people who don't need to ask the question. –  John Y Mar 9 '13 at 5:24

An article in The Guardian summarises Kenneth Clark's explanation of the difference between naked and nude:

It was the art historian Kenneth Clark who claimed there is a difference. A naked human body is exposed, vulnerable, embarrassing, he wrote in his 1956 book The Nude. "The word 'nude', on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenceless body, but of a balanced, prosperous and confident body ... "

A philosophy professor's summary of Clark's book includes the following points:

The connotative differences between the nude and the naked:

  1. To be naked suggests deprivation, i.e., deprived of clothes and embarrassed about it.
  2. To be nude suggests a balanced, confident, prosperous body--no discomfort or embarrassment.
  3. This difference suggests that the nude is an art form invented by fifth-century Greeks.
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The use of "nude" is virtually always to indicate that a human form lacks clothing. It is, in most usages, a statement of this simple truth, and so it generally has a more innocent, natural connotation. Because it refers specifically to human forms and cannot usually be used to describe anything else, it can be used as a noun: "a nude" is a person who is nude. A "nude beach" is an example of the word in this noun form; the beach itself isn't nude, it's instead a beach for nudes.

Again, because of the simplicity implied in the word, "nude" has an artistic connotation, as countless works of art depict the human form lacking clothing (at least in areas of the body that we typically conceal in Western culture), without the subjects seeming to be aware of this fact. They certainly do not draw attention to it themselves, although the artist might in the composition of the work.

"Naked" has the same technical definition of being "uncovered", but various idiomatic usages typically give the word a connotation of starkness; something "naked" has often been actively uncovered or exposed, when it is normally concealed; e.g. "the naked truth". This starkness implies an impropriety to the state; that something which is "naked" shouldn't be, because it normally isn't, and the intent of it being naked is to shock or embarrass; it's right there, in your face, daring you to do something about it. Other usages are clinical or technical; "the naked eye". The combination of these various usages give "naked" a "cold" connotation.

A third synonym, with similar general-purpose usage and starkness as "naked" but with a less negative connotation, is "bare". Again, the technical definition is basically "uncovered, unconcealed, exposed", but unlike "nude" or even "naked", almost anything can be bare. The connotation, then, is that it's not necessarily improper for something to be bare; it's more acceptable, however still somewhat stark, and the connotation is that this might not be a good long-term state of affairs for whatever is bare, but it's acceptable, at least for a time. For instance, bare (unfinished) wood.

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According to Larry Niven, "Nude is artistic. Naked is defenseless." I think this dovetails with KeithS's distinction.

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or maybe better "nude is a state of dress, naked is a state of mind" :) –  jwenting Mar 9 '13 at 7:07
    
Of course this was a Larry Niven character, and Niven had a comment about people who confuse a character’s views with the author’s. –  J. C. Salomon Mar 12 '13 at 21:20

When used to describe the state of absence of clothing:

Nude is the result of a deliberate, calm and considered act of removal, typically to reveal the body without, or with subdued, sexual connotation. Examples:

  • A nude model (one who poses nude for an artist - there is nothing racy about it)
  • A nude beach (where the complete lack of clothing is permitted)

Naked suggests an ill-considered, unexpected or sexually-suggestive absence of clothing

  • He was caught naked (he didn't intend to be seen without clothing)
  • The streaker was completely naked! (how naughty!)
  • A naked man walked into the room (unexpected and unacceptable absence of clothing)
  • They were caught naked in bed together (and we know exactly what they were up to)
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In general naked does not suggest "an ill-considered, unexpected or sexually-suggestive absence of clothing". Consider "I usually shower naked.", "In the changing room, I got naked, so I could try on some clothes.", "My doctor asked me to get naked for my physical.". –  emory Mar 9 '13 at 12:32

There isn't a strict distinction but, the trend in current usage appears to be:

  • naked emphasises the lack of clothes.

    Some people wear nightclothes in bed, but others prefer to sleep naked.

  • nude emphasises the body.

    Classical painters considered the nude, which celebrated the human form, the highest form of art.

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Both words can have different connotations depending on how they're used, but they're not unique to that particular word. Both can be used sexually or matter-of-factly, for example.

Generally speaking, "nude" is softer/informal than "naked", which is generally more formal.

You wouldn't say, "he's a naked model", as it would seem demeaning. Being a "nude model" sounds far more polite.

Likewise, if you were being questioned by police about possible streaker activities, it would seem a little weird to be asked, "were you in the nude?" instead of "were you naked"?

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Nude. You can use this word as both an adjective (attribute of something) and a noun (about place, people, or time)

But, naked can only be used as an adjective.

There is not so much difference, I think.

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Nude mostly refers to naked human figure where naked implies the meaning without clothes. Naked - in a broader connotation refers to a meaning of without usual covering

You may be nude or naked.

but

You may feel naked

You may have naked emotions
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Ultimately, it's a matter of heritage. "Naked" is rough and ready Anglo-Saxon, from "nacod", while "nude" is from Latin "nudus/a/um", and so can carry -- like it or not -- connotative differences that make it seem more formal. In a way we are lucky. Most languages, particularly the romance languages, only have their words descended from "nudus/a/um", such as Spanish "desnudo/a", or Italian "nudo/a". I had almost forgotten about the Robert Graves poem, which spells out one man's studied view of the differences in connotations.

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For me, naked implies shame, embarrassment, humiliation or premature or unwanted exposure of one's unclothed body. I take being nude to be a conscience choice that implies relaxation, being comfortable in one's own skin (with one's own nudity), the aesthetic beauty and grace of the uncovered human body (particularly one that is physically fit and toned, male or female), etc.

For example, if someone is completely stripped of their clothing against their will, they are then left naked; but, if someone relaxes at home alone or with friends in a completely unclothed state (domestic and/or social nudism), because they and their friends feel more comfortable that way, then they are nude. Just my personal opinion and point of view.

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I think if you're running the Bay to Breakers sans covering, you're probably naked. If you're on Baker Beach relaxing while the race is going on, you're probably nude. The same person can be both, but probably not at the same time.

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