English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What is the difference between clever and skillful?

share|improve this question

closed as general reference by Mahnax, Matt E. Эллен, FumbleFingers, JSBձոգչ, Robusto Mar 5 '12 at 17:42

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Consult your local dictionary. – user11550 Mar 5 '12 at 14:45
This question would probably not have been closed if there were some elucidated question about how you think they are the same or different. – Mitch Mar 5 '12 at 23:00

My first thought is that clever implies something done with the mind, whereas skillful implies something done with the hands.

You might have a clever algorithm, but a skilled sculptor.

A clever plumber may figure out a good way to route a pipe, particularly in a situation when there's no straightforward way to do it. A skilled plumber will do a good job soldering the pipes together.

A skilled painter can paint the Mona Lisa. A clever painter can make you wonder what she's smiling about.

I then checked an on-line dictionary, to confirm my initial hunch:

skilled (adj.): having or showing or requiring special skill ("Only the most skilled gymnasts make an Olympic team.")

clever (adj.): mentally quick and resourceful ("You are a clever man; you reason well.)

Not too bad, although it's worth noting clever had some secondary meanings I hadn't considered. Clever readers will go investigate.

share|improve this answer
I think you're on the right track, but I think tying "skill" to physical actions is a wrong move. One can be a "skilled teacher", but not be clever or physical. – heathenJesus Mar 5 '12 at 17:32
Excellent point. I've described a trend, but, unsurprisingly, there are many counterexamples. A teacher can be skilled, and a fencer could exhibit clever swordsmanship. Thanks for the note. – J.R. Mar 5 '12 at 18:26
Indeed, I think it's more of a scope issue. Skill is quite narrow in scope — it tends to deal in a specific aptitude for a specific task or set of tasks, and to be of a more formally obtained nature. Cleverness is much broader, being an attribute of the person themselves, and the way that it is applied to tasks and groups of tasks. – heathenJesus Mar 5 '12 at 19:27

Clever implies nothing about the amount of effort expended, whereas skillful carries the connotation of having spent considerable time learning or practicing the activity concerned.

In general, cleverness is innate, whereas skills are learned.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.