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For example, to discover what had caused the war between them, he travelled extensively and questioned many people. He was a skilful writer, producing works that are informative and lively.

The answer key to my schoolbook suggests skilful as the only possible answer here. However, can't we use skilled as well?

(It is a CAE Part 3 task, in which you have to transform a word. In this case, SKILL)

The following links introduce us to a pretty similar meaning which I cannot make sense of, to be honest.

http://www.learnersdictionary.com/qa/the-difference-between-skilled-and-skillful

I'd be more than grateful if you let me know about anything obvious that I might be missing here.

  • What were the other options? Sometimes there can be more than one "right" answer but the author provides the "best" answer that fits along with a choice of "wrong" or "inappropriate" answers. E.g (a) helpful (b) intelligent (c) talentful (d) skilful. Only (d) is the best answer. For (c) "talented" also fits but it wasn't available as an option. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '18 at 7:36
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    It was not a multiple choice task, sadly - it was CAE Part 3 in which we have to transform the word given - I was just given SKILL – george Jan 23 '18 at 7:37
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He was a _______ writer, producing works that are informative and lively.

The OP's task was to transform the word SKILL in order to fill in the blank space.

But if the OP had to find a word, they could have opted for any of the following: gifted, talented, accomplished, or even polished.

Note that none of the preceding adjectives have the suffix -ful. In fact, giftful, talentful, accomplishedful, and polishful are all ungrammatical today. But in the case of skill, either one of the two suffixes -ed (skilled) and -ful (skillful) can be applied.

Oxford Dictionaries says that skilled means

1. Having or showing the knowledge, ability, or training to perform a certain activity or task well.

1.1 Based on or proceeding from the ability to do something well.
1.2 (of work) requiring special abilities or training.

Whereas for skilful, there is only one definition

Having or showing skill.

  • ‘Not only is he a brilliantly skillful footballer, he is also captain and leader of this Czech side.’
  • ‘For thousands of years, this has been admired as the most skillful accomplishment in war.’

The writer in the citation can be called skilled because they have the knowledge, and the ability to produce informative and entertaining works. They can also be called skilful because they have a natural talent or have acquired the ability (i.e. the skill) to write well.

In conclusion, both forms are more than acceptable. The answer "skilful", supplied by the OP's book, was unnecessarily restricted.

Google Ngram showing the British Corpus agrees that either adjective is suitable for writer, but skilled writer has a narrow advantage.

Ngram skillful writer vs. skilled writer

Google Ngram with the American English spelling skillful, suggests that skilled writer is also the preferred form since the mid-1980s.

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I disagree with the linked explanation. I think that they are close enough that no one would notice if you used one instead of the other, but if you wanted to be really picky:

Skilled applies to a person, as in "he was a highly skilled professional."

Skillful applies to an action or the result of an action, as in "his skillful execution saved the day."

As requested, we can observe the relative frequencies of these two examples against their opposite with the help of Google n-grams:

skilled professional vs skillful professional

skillful execution vs skilled execution

This difference probably stems from the fact that only skillful has an adverbial form: we can say "she skillfully carried out the task", but not that she carried it out "skilledly".

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Others have discussed definitions and statistics regarding the words skilled and skillful (also spelt skilful), so I'll take those as read.

As you noticed, M-W tackles your question with the following conclusion:

In sum, skilled means having lots of training/experience and it is the best word to use when talking about workers and laborers. Skillful means expert at a particular job, but not necessarily because of training or experience. - The difference between skilled and skillful, Learner's Dictionary

You say:

I'd be more than grateful if you let me know about anything obvious that I might be missing here.

The nuanced difference is that skilled relates more to training and skillful to talent. Both work, but the context "producing works that are informative and lively" suggests an element of creativity that favours the answer 'skillful'.

  • It's the same link that is in the OP's question. The extract also says ...In the sentence below, the words skilled and skillful are almost interchangeable. [She is a skilful / skilled surgeon] With either word, the sentence tells us that the surgeon is an expert at what she does. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '18 at 10:07
  • @Mari-LouA True, and an oversight on my part. But I don't think the issue is about being an expert - it is about creativity, something that nudges slightly closer to skilfulness than being skilled. That's the nuance I tried to bring out by my closing paragraph. – Lawrence Jan 23 '18 at 10:10
  • Both are perfectly fine, I would not mark "skilled" as being wrong here. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '18 at 10:11
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    @Mari-LouA I'm not saying I would - I'm saying that skilfull would be a slightly better fit in the OP's example. – Lawrence Jan 23 '18 at 10:12
  • @Mari-LouA I've edited my answer to incorporate points from the comments. – Lawrence Jan 23 '18 at 10:15

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