Harrap's New Shorter English-French/French-English Dictionary, Ed. 1982, states,



1. habileté f, adresse f, dextérité f; technical skill, habileté, aptitude f, technique; compétence f technique; skill in doing sth, (i) talent m, habileté f, pour faire qqch.; (ii) art m de faire qqch.; lack of skill, maladresse f, inhabileté f.

2. North American: métier; art m pratique.

Question is, considering that "métier" carries quite a lot of nuances in French (as you can see in the links below), and that "art pratique" (lit. "practical art") is a vague phrase and, as such, sounds kind of confusing as to what is actually meant, what exactly is that North American meaning of "skill" supported here by British Harrap?

Also, if that second sense of "skill" actually is specific to North American English, what would be the British English equivalent for it?



  1. Exercice d'un art mécanique. Le métier de cordonnier, de tailleur, de serrurier, de tisserand, etc. Apprendre, savoir, avoir, exercer un métier. Il est maçon de son métier.

(Practice of a mechanical craft. The trade of shoemaker, tailor, locksmith, weaver, etc. Learn, be proficient in, have, follow a trade. He's a mason by trade.)

  1. Habileté d'exécution, mais rien de plus, en parlant de la peinture, de la sculpture ; le talent acquis de vaincre facilement la matière. Avoir du métier.

(Skill of execution, but nothing more, with reference to painting, sculpture; the acquired talent to easily vanquish matter. To have skill/technique.)


A. − Activité manuelle ou mécanique nécessitant l'acquisition d'un savoir-faire, d'une pratique.

(Manual or mechanical occupation requiring the acquisition of a savoir-faire, of a practical skill.)

D. − Par métonymie. Habileté, savoir-faire dans la production ou l'exécution manuelle ou intellectuelle acquise par l'expérience, la pratique que confère un métier ou une activité permanente.

(By metonymy. Skill, know-how in the manual/intellectual production or execution acquired through experience and practice in a regular trade or occupation.)


The Free Dictionary


a. Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience: painted with great skill.

b. A developed talent or ability: improved his writing skills.

c. An art, trade, or technique, particularly one requiring use of the hands or body: the skill of glassmaking.

Synonyms: skill, art, craft, expertise, know-how, technique These nouns denote great ability in doing or performing that is attained especially by study or practice: a shortstop legendary for his fielding skill; mosaics rendered with exquisite art; pottery that reveals an artist's craft; a woodworker with special expertise in parquet floors; mechanical know-how; played the violin with impeccable technique.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011


  1. special ability in a task, sport, etc, esp ability acquired by training

  2. something, esp a trade or technique, requiring special training or manual proficiency

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014


  1. the ability, coming from one's knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well: Carpentry was one of his many skills.

  2. competent excellence in performance; expertness; dexterity: The dancers performed with skill.

  3. a craft, trade, or job requiring manual dexterity or special training in which a person has competence and experience: the skill of cabinetmaking.

Random House Dictionary, © 2011

  • 7
    By the time I finished reading the post I'd forgotten what the question was. What is your question by the way? Oh, wait the dictionary is saying the second meaning of skill is métier in American English. And you're asking.... what do other native speakers use in place of it? I don't see the connection between "art of" or "manual trade" and "practical art". In other words, is the premise of your question based on a single dictionary entry by Harrap? What does the bounty message mean by the current answers are "out of date", they're two days old! :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 9:47
  • 2
    Would métier be what you would call a career made out of a trade skill? English isn't the only confusing language, after all... :)
    – Tim Ward
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 11:37
  • 2
    Have you looked at other dictionaries? Also, answering this question well necessitates a command of French also, its subtle nuances. You probably want to discuss your question at a translation site (I recommend dict.leo).
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 13:49
  • 3
    @Elian You're asking very important questions... but I fear they need a kind of knowledge of all of French, AmE, BrE, the editing of Harrap's and other dictionaries MW, AHD, etc that you're unlikely to find here.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 15:31
  • 2
    You may need to change your question title. It sounds like you're really asking "What do British and Australian English speakers use in place of North American English 'trade skill' (Fr. métier)?"... because your dictionary implies that North America uses "skill" this way and other regions don't.
    – Tim Ward
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 17:39

5 Answers 5


Collins [2014]

skill ... n

  1. special ability in a task, sport, etc, esp ability acquired by training
  2. something, esp a trade or technique, requiring special training or manual proficiency
  3. obsolete understanding

lists the senses in order of frequency of usage as found in their corpus data; both the 'special ability' and the 'trade/technique calling for sense [1]' polysemes are listed. This issue is not confined to US usage.

Where there is scope for ambiguity ('Manual crafts developed quite quickly during this time') [note from say AHDEL that 'craft' also has both 'skill' and 'skill-requiring occupation' senses; distribution of usages is by no means identical, though), it may be considered that there is little need to distinguish these senses. If there is such a need, only the principle polyseme (eg skill = special ability) should be used, or a workaround employed.

The loan-word métier [AHDEL]:

  1. An occupation, trade, or profession
  2. Work or activity for which a person is particularly suited; one's specialty

might actually be used to disambiguate in some cases.

Rephrasing with better context might be preferable:

'Local industries – manual crafts – developed quite quickly during this time.'

'The manual skills of the typical villager developed quite quickly during this time.'

  • 3
    Do you understand what the OP's question is? Because I'm quite confused.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 10:04
  • @Mari-LouA - I think the question is actually based on 'usage extension' of the term "skill" rather than on actual meaning.
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 11:04
  • @Josh61 well, I might think that myself, but the question is quite unclear despite all the research.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 11:27
  • @Mari-LouA - it originally was about the difference between trade and skill meaning "job" in AmE, but now I don't know what the question is.
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 11:29
  • 1
    (a) (implied): 'Is this latter sense of "skill" (= Collins sense {2}: something, esp a trade or technique, requiring special training / manual proficiency [/ Collins sense {1}]) still[?] specific to North American English?' //// (b) What would other native speakers of English say to render what "métier; art pratique" is to French? Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 12:21

A trade is an occupation - generally requiring specialized knowledge and skill(s), and performed for compensation.

A craft is an activity requiring some specialized skill(s), but the term implies nothing with respect to compensation. Knitting, carving, pottery making are all crafts, but not necessarily trades.

A skill is a specific ability. A given craft or trade may actually call for a set of skills in order for a practitioner to be successful.

  • You are just giving the principle senses here, without discussing the ambiguities involved. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 9:31
  • 1
    @edwin Anthony distinguishes the three terms
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 12:53

If, after sorting through the excellent and meticulous lexicography presented here, I understand the core of the question to seek a word in common American use, I would offer from my storehouse of everyday speech the word artisan and its variant forms artisanal and artisanship as locutions commonly used, perhaps overused, and nonetheless evident in the American marketplace. Once reserved for skilled craftsmanship, the adjective form in particular is now attached to everything from white bread to lite beer.


I believe your question is this: How does métier differ from simple skill?

The answer is probably part anthropological and part cultural.

In English, the term métier was inherited from French in the 18th Century and applied to professions that required a particular skill or 'calling'. This was a period when culturally we were at the end of the transition from feudalism to the more capitalist system in place through most of Western civilization today.

In terms of professions where this term, métier, might be applied, refer to the Online Etymology Dictionary's entry:

"skill, talent, calling," 1792, from French métier "trade, profession," from Old French mestier "task, affair, service, function, duty," from Gallo-Roman * misterium, from Latin ministerium "office, service," from minister "servant" (see minister (n.)).

In English today, we still refer to these as trade skills, and many of the professional careers that require special skills also have professional guilds or unions.

In modern usage, the term can be applied to whatever you would call your career or even your area of expertise.

Edited to add:

An interesting term related to this is vocational education, which is the study and practice of skills related to such vocational careers. Again, many of these careers also have related guilds or unions that support the collective employees.

There's also an interesting mini-surge in popularity of "trade skill" around 1920. If you compare this Ngram chart searching on "trade skill,metier,métier,vocational education", you see an incredible spike in "vocational education" around that same time. Ironically, it seems that the phrase "vocational career" has remained mostly flat, about even with "trade skill" overall.

  • Elian, I saw you posted an edit to your original, but I think my answer still stands. Although, I'm a bit unsure what you mean when you say If this latter sense of "skill" actually is specific to North American English, what would other native speakers of English say to render what "métier; art pratique" is to French? Are you looking for an alternative French term? If not, I think trade skill (for art pratique) and career are perfectly acceptable translations.
    – Tim Ward
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 16:51

The more common meanings of the two terms according to the AHD are:


  • 1) Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience: painted with great skill.


  • 1) The business of buying and selling commodities, products, or services; commerce.

Regarding the definitions you are citing, I'd say that:

  • A trade is used to refer to an occupation or a particular area of business or industry. e.g. the book trade, the clothing trade.


  • A skill is the ability to do or perform something with a high level of competence , usually gained through experience and training.
  • 5
    Don't think this is quite right. There are plenty of references like "he's a carpenter by trade."
    – Lynn
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 23:22
  • 1
    This answer does not address e.g. "building trades" in the OP and as a very common United States union: mobile.philly.com/news/?wss=/philly/news&id=323999151&
    – user662852
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 0:29

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