"Wise" is defined as having, experiencing or showing "knowledge and good judgement", whereas "shrewd" is defined by as "having or showing sharp powers of judgement; astute". Does this mean that "shrewd" is simply a synonym and therefore the two adjectives can be used interchangeably, or does it have a subtle difference, i.e. shrewdness is the application of knowledge to a greater extent [than wisdom]? How would this affect their application in everyday language? Thanks!

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    Wise is universally positive; and in that definition showing doesn't mean "giving the appearance of; seeming", it means "demonstrating; evidencing". By contrast, shrewd is often slightly pejorative, as in a "shrewd businessman manipulating a deal" such that he gets the best end of it. One does not need to be wise to be shrewd, though it helps, and one certainly does not need to be shrewd to be wise. They're mostly unrelated in application. – Dan Bron Oct 3 '15 at 12:05
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    I the US, shrewd tends to imply "sneaky" or "of questionable honesty". When not totally pejorative, it still implies more of an ability to assess the mental, social, and financial state of others and react accordingly (as in "shrewd businessman") than actual wisdom. It would not be at all unusual for someone to say "He's not that smart, but he's a shrewd businessman." – Hot Licks Oct 3 '15 at 12:16
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    I think this is mainly a matter of opinion. On average, a wise person is more likely to be one who shares his wisdom to benefit others, whereas a shrewd person often uses his shrewdness "covertly" for his own benefit. But the meanings overlap considerably, and they're often effectively interchangeable. – FumbleFingers Oct 3 '15 at 12:35
  • @Dan: A wise guy, huh? ;) – FumbleFingers Oct 3 '15 at 12:44
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    Your statement '... is simply a synonym and therefore the two adjectives can be used interchangeably' shows a common misconception about the term 'synonym'. The most sensible definition is 'one of two or more words that have the same or very nearly the same meaning in at least some of their accepted usages' (eg 'strong' and 'powerful', but try switching them between 'strong tea' and a 'powerful computer'). 'Exact synonyms' are extremely rare if they exist at all. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '15 at 13:27

Both shrewd and wise have the meaning that a person has knowledge and sound judgement which allows him to make good decisions, resulting in positive outcomes.

But shrewd is more commonly used in conjunction with a specific field of knowledge. Someone is more likely to be called a “shrewd lawyer” or “shrewd negotiator” rather than just a “shrewd person.”

Shrewd does have some negative connotations, but this stems from its older meanings of sharpness, hardness, or forcefulness, or from its earlier meaning of being malicious (shrewish), but which over time came to mean cunning or clever.

Wise suggests more a generally useful knowledge and good judgement that’s not specific to a particular area, but applies more to life in general.

Someone who is a good mentor or teacher is more likely to be called wise than shrewd.


Wisdom is often a goal in and of itself, whereas shrewdness is a means to an end. Shrewdness is practical wisdom.

We would never say "It was shrewd of him to renounce the things of this mutable world below the stars."

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    More than "practical" wisdom, I'd say shrewdness is limited, focused wisdom, as street smarts are more than just "practical smarts", but smarts applicable in limited & focused contexts. – Dan Bron Oct 3 '15 at 13:36
  • "Practical" in the widest sense, "praxis". – TRomano Oct 3 '15 at 20:08

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