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What is the difference between "merits"and"strengths" and what is the difference between "demerits" and "weaknesses"?

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You normally earn a merit using your strengths and your weaknesses can result in demerits. That said, you can say The strengths and weaknesses of these proposals are... and "The merits and demerits of these proposals are..._ –  mplungjan Sep 3 '13 at 8:00
    
strengths and weaknesses are inherent. Merits and demerits are awarded. –  Jim Sep 3 '13 at 8:35
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What does your dictionary suggest and then what do you need clarification on? You may find it helpful to read the bottom section on this page. Note particularly "if your question isn't adequately answered by [a dictionary] ... Be sure to mention the research you've done and what you're still hoping to learn!" –  TrevorD Sep 3 '13 at 11:17

3 Answers 3

The noun merit can mean

often plural a deserving or commendable quality or act: judge him on his merits

The verb form has a similar tone

to be worthy of; deserve

Both forms connote some praiseworthy activity or effort.

Strength, by contrast is a more passive characteristic

something that is regarded as being beneficial or a source of power: their chief strength is technology

Demerit even more clearly suggests action, albeit negative

  1. something, esp conduct, that deserves censure
  2. (US & Canadian) a mark given against a person for failure or misconduct, esp in schools or the armed forces
  3. a fault or disadvantage

Weakness also has a more passive connotation

  1. the state or quality of being weak
  2. a deficiency or failing, as in a person's character
  3. a self-indulgent fondness or liking a weakness for chocolates

While there is some overlap in both pairs, there are reasons to choose one over the other.

Willpower was her strength and her exercise of that determination was among her principle merits. His weakness was a kind heart. He often acts on that and, in business, that can be a demerit.

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To me, merits/demerits are given based on specific activities (you received 1 merit badge when your answer is accepted on Stack Exchange) and strengths/weaknesses are inferred based on the merits/demerits one earns (her many badges for accepted English Language Stack Exchange answers show that English usage is one of her strengths, while his many downvoted answers on calculus in the Math StackExchange show that integrals is a weakness for him.).

Another way to see it is that merits/demerits can be awarded objectively (that is, without context) while strengths/weaknesses are subjective (and therefore require context to be awarded).

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My opinion: merits/demerits embellish someone's personalities. strengths/weaknesses embellish someone's skills.

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Not sure I agree with that. It is very common to speak of 'on the merits' of a 'case' in legal parlance - just to provide one example. –  user49727 Sep 3 '13 at 9:46

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