I wanted to tell my friend that I had skills in persuading people. I stood for 5 minutes just thinking whether I should say "persuading skills", "persuasive skills", or "persuasion skills". Also, "manipulative skills, manipulation skills, manipulating skills"? To decide which one to use, I went searching online dictionaries, and it just created further confusion.

I have noticed that when the word has no verb form or its verb form is not very popular, we use its adjectival form before the word skill such as
Political skill / athletic skill / artistic skill /mathematical skill / technical skill / tactical skill / social skill

When the word has the gerund as a noun, then it is the word that precedes skill such as
reading skill / writing skill / hunting skill / shooting skill / wrestling skill / fishing skill

However, when the case is neither of those, confusion arises. In the following cases, how would you decide which one to use?

  1. Persuading skill / persuasion skill / persuasive skill

  2. Manipulating skill / manipulation skill / manipulative skill

  3. Negotiating skill / negotiation skill / ..

  4. Interpretive skill / interpretation skill

  5. Investigating skill / investigation skill / investigative skill

  6. Navigating skill / navigation skill / navigational skill?

  7. Performing skill / performance skill

  • 2
    I think this question is fine on ELL :-)
    – user28567
    Dec 1, 2015 at 7:15
  • @snailboat How ironic. Dec 1, 2015 at 8:06
  • 2
    I'm not sure about the reason of the migration. IMHO, ELL should be able to handle this question just fine. Dec 1, 2015 at 8:18
  • Very often, and for no apparent reason, certain strings (especially pairs of words) become idiomatic while other apparently equally strong candidates don't. Why do we say dogs home (or dogs' home) but donkey sanctuary? (These terms have merged further into compound nouns.) When unsure of the less awkward-sounding term, it's best to check in a dictionary for compounds, in a collocations dictionary for strong collocations, and on Google Ngrams where this fails. Dec 6, 2015 at 21:11

5 Answers 5


My two cents:

I think when a gerund from a verb is possible, using 'gerund' seems to be more common.

negotiation negotiating skills
(Internet) search searching skills
program programming skills
write writing skills

When a gerund is not possible, a noun or an adjective seems to be common.

management skills
practical skills
technical skills
academic skills

As I said, this is not a concrete rule. I think taking help of authentic sources like Ngram would help you decide the correct form.

  • "When a gerund is not possible, a noun seems to be common", but when you said "technical/academic" these are adjectives not nouns. And most often we say "managerial skills" instead of "management skills". Dec 1, 2015 at 7:27
  • Ngram shows kind of odd results. Most of websites say "persuasion skills" not "persuasive skills" Dec 1, 2015 at 7:30
  • Aw..Ngram results are way more reliable as compared to websites!. About noun/adjective, I must include this point. However, 'technical/academic' are noun as well.
    – Maulik V
    Dec 1, 2015 at 7:31
  • 1
    it just confuses me even more. :( I hate it when there is no straightforward answer. Dec 1, 2015 at 7:33
  • 2
    negotiating skills, negotiation skills in Ngram are used interchangeably Dec 1, 2015 at 7:36

1) To start off, we in fact do say "Negotiation skills".

2) I would probably think we use the noun form of the verb, i.e. usually with an -ion ending, and if that doesn't work then use ... skilled in + noun.


A. Persuasion skills

B. Problem-solving skills

C. I wouldn't use either of these, instead, I would say "... very patient", because skills in patience doesn't really exist.


The "xyz skill[s]" forms are problematic. Consider this sentence, "They want someone good at negotiating skills." Is this poorly-worded form of "They want someone with good negotiating skills", or are they looking for someone who can trade well in the marketplace of skills (as in "I'll trade you a mid-fielder for a striker and throw in a bonus rookie.")? The noun form, "They want someone good at negotiation skills." side-steps this ambiguity, but is often not idiomatic, as evidenced by your "problem-solution / problem-solving skills" example.

In your list of instances (I hope this isn't just homework you're foisting on us :) ), since you want a word that describes the skill, the natural choice would be an adjective (informally, a word that describes a noun). If that's not available, choose a noun over a verb to minimise ambiguity. I.e. persuasive, manipulative, negotiation, interpretive, investigative, navigational. With the last, "the performing arts" is idiomatic and the phrase "performance skills" doesn't mean one is skilled at performing - it refers to specific techniques that performers use, so choosing "performing" is probably better.

If you are not constrained to use the "xyz skill[s]" form, try rephrasing your sentence. For example, the sentence that motivated your question could be replaced with "I am persuasive."

Finally, you use both "xyz skill" and "xyz skills" in your question. If you have to use the "xyz skill[s]" form, the plural form is often better - consider "I have persuasive skills" vs "I have [a] persuasive skill".

  • Thank you for answering, but no this is not a homework. It is an honest question that might confuse any English learner especially that you are faced with many cases with no rule of thumb. According to what you said, the verb "negotiate" has no adjectival form, then we should say "negotiation skills". But it looks like "negotiating skills" is more common. Also "performance skills" is way more common than "performing skills". Why is this the case? Dec 4, 2015 at 4:02
  • @GhaithAlrestom Redoing my reply to your comments - my unsaved comments entry was lost after saving my edited answer. I've addressed performing vs performance in the edited answer. As for negotiation vs negotiating, the verb form tends to be more common, but "xyz skills" is problematic in any case, as previously observed. It appears from your comments on this page that your question "how do you decide ..." is after more than just "which is more popular ...". My answer for negotiation vs negotiating is based on clarity. Of course, cause/effect between clarity and popularity is open to debate.
    – Lawrence
    Dec 4, 2015 at 10:04

You might want to consider using presentation skills to infer your ability. Also, the likes of perception management skills, perhaps extending straight onto public relations (PR) skills.

Why not propoganda skills?


It depends on the meaning of the word that is followed by "skill".

So, if you want to say that "I have skill in persuading people", you should use: noun + skill.

"I have persuasion skill."

But if you want to say that "I am good at persuading people", you should say:

"I am persuasive."

And about negotiating and negotiation you should first know about the meaning of them.

Negotiating: "The act of discussing something to reach an agreement."

Negotiation: "The process of discussing something to reach an agreement."

So, the right choice is "negotiating skill".

And communicative and communication:

Communicative: " The ability to communicate in a language, especially a foreign language."

Communication: "The act of communicating and expressing ideas and feeling with people."

So, communicative skills is quite different from communication skills.

Here is an example:

"Doctors don't always have good communication skills."

And about the last one you should know problem-solution is not a noun actually it is an adjective.

Problem-solution (adjective): "A piece of writing with a problem-solution structure mentions a problem and then a solution to it."

Problem-solving (noun): "The process of finding answers or solutions to problems."

  • Thank you for answering, but you didn't tell me how you came to these answers. Regarding "persuasion", why is "persuasive skills" more common? And according to this logic, why should we say "negotiating skills"? I have skill in negotiating with people, therefore I have negotiation skills, right? I have skill in manipulating people, then I should say I have manipulation skills? And also why would we choose the adjective form of a word before skill such as analytical, artistic? Dec 4, 2015 at 2:34
  • "I have persuasion skill" doesn't sound right to me. Google Ngrams suggests that "persuasion skill" is very rarely used compared to "skills of persuasion."
    – herisson
    Dec 4, 2015 at 2:38
  • @GhaithAlrestom "you didn't tell me how you came to these answers." I just looked them up in "Oxford and Longman Collocations".
    – haha
    Dec 4, 2015 at 12:22
  • @GhaithAlrestom I didn't say you can use whatever you want. I said it depends on what you mean by that. By the way " persuasion skill" is more common if you google it. And if there are some "adjective + skill " that is because either there is no appropriate noun for skill or in that way it make better sense.
    – haha
    Dec 4, 2015 at 12:37

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