What's a good adjective to describe a smile which is not genuine, but still has a good connotation?

I was thinking of using fake smile, but fake has a negative connotation, which I'm trying to avoid. In fact, I'm looking for something that says the exact opposite about the person... they aren't trying to be fake towards people, they are just so kind that they don't want the other person to feel bad, therefore they put on an insincere smile to be kind towards them. Insincere, too, has a negative connotation which I'm trying to avoid, since it makes the person sound like they have negative qualities as well.

Perhaps a little background could help clarify: imagine a person that is annoyed by something that a friend does, but doesn't want the friend to feel bad about annoying her, so she puts on a smile just for show. The smile isn't meant to be [snarky, rude, disparaging, sarcastic, etc.], it is truly, genuinely meant to be so that the other person doesn't feel bad about annoying her. Therefore, as you can see, the person really is kind and using a word such as fake doesn't do justice to describe the smile.

Any suggestions?

  • As your Question is worded no, none; never. A smile is genuine, false or at best, forced. Your best choice would then be "forced" but even that has "good connotations" only when compared to pure "false." That you, I or we tried to force a smile says only that our intentions were good… the smile itself, necessarily, was not good. Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 21:38

13 Answers 13


You might say courteous or polite. Both of these suggest an action which is in some sense insincere, but which is motivated for other good and defensible reasons.

  • I particularly like "courteous" because it implies consideration for others as well as good manners.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 18:36
  • 1
    I like polite smile as it's a frequent collocation (#75 according to google books) and in the sense considerate is apt.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 21:17
  • 1
    Along these lines, what do you think about using tactful here?
    – Corey
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 16:51
  • But courtesy and politeness may be genuine, a "polite smile" is not necessarily fake. Considerate usually implies genuineness. Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 10:04

Based on the context you provided, I think I would use complaisant smile.

Accommodating, kind, and possibly custodial also occur to me, depending on their relationship.

  • +1 Complaisant works very nicely here, giving the sense of wanting to please, or being obliging.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 0:38
  • 2
    +1 for kind...it is simple but expresses whole range of consideration going on. Reminds me of my mother-in-law, who can not only kill you with kindness, but also dispose of the body.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 3:58
  • 6
    Hmm. I really wouldn't use complaisant, nice as it is, purely because complacent is so common, and that does have negative connotations.
    – user1579
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 13:37
  • 3
    Might wanna keep your audience in mind for that one. It's a good word but one that a fair number of people (myself included!) would have to look up or assume on context. At least compared to "courteous", "polite" or "obliging." :)
    – Drew
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 15:02
  • @Rhodri, that is something I considered. I still prefer to find and use the right word (and certainly suggest them when asked), rather than underestimate my audience. Especially if they have eBook readers, which usually make it very easy to get definitions for unfamiliar words. Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 16:20


  • 3
    +1 I recently listened to a TED talk on authenticity wherein the speaker explained that inauthentic things we dislike are 'fake', inauthentic things we like are 'faux'. I would have posted this answer were it not already here.
    – jimbo
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 1:40
  • 4
    I'm old enough to remember when faux was a word they put between "genuine" and "diamonds" in late night infomercials to trick people who didn't know French. Folks figured it out eventually of course. Because of this, the word in English will always have mildly dishonest connotations to me. I wouldn't call that good. When people call Fox News "Faux News", they aren't paying it a complement.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 2:24
  • Yes, I agree with you to an extent. Labeling something 'fake' has the feeling of calling out the quality as being inferior, where I feel that 'faux' is meant to mean 'good enough to be'. Like good enough to be leather... but it's still not real leather. I'm having a hard time thinking of a word that actually ends up positive, this one is at least a wash :) Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 2:53
  • 3
    @T.E.D. I guess the "Faux News" thing was jsut too good a pun to forego. Perhaps etymologists might one day identify this as the starting point for a meaning-shift? Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 12:13

Forgive me. I know you specifically asked for a word that means fake but has positive connotation. The only ones I can think of are generally negative, but it occurred to me that you might describe the smile in a more specific way instead. Rather than a "fake" smile, maybe it is "sympathetic" or "practiced" or "well-mannered." Like this,

While her friend continued to poke her with a stick, Maria flourished a patient smile and complimented her friend's aim.

I know it's not exactly what you asked for, but maybe it will accomplish what you want.

  • 1
    Yeah, before I read the full context, I was thinking brave smile might work.
    – Marthaª
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 20:36
  • Yes, that's a nice one. Or tolerant smile.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 21:36

You could use any of the following words depending on the context:

i) An understanding smile
ii) An indulgent smile
iii) A patient smile
iv) A cultured smile
v) A practised smile
vi) A humoring smile
vii) An amused smile (this smile is a real smile)


What about a "Sympathetic smile"


You could say the friend "puts on a smile"


How about a "forced" smile? It's not the genuine thing, but isn't real. Some effort had to be put into it.


Diplomatic. What more can I say? He smiled diplomatically. Remember his diplomatic smile?


Facsimile (though perhaps not a smile)

I once saw a stamp magazine advertisement offering "genuine facsimile Penny Blacks". Here is something similar for an autograph.


There is a word for a person who gives a fake smile -



I'm thinking that the word "obligatory" might work for your situation.

Imposing obligation; binding in law or conscience; imposing duty; requiring performance of or forbearance from some act:

  • Change it to "obliging" and you might have something.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 20:12

A perfunctory smile - perhaps?

  • 1
    Great suggestion, alas perfunctory also has negative connotations so doesn't answer the original question.
    – Mark Booth
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 14:59

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