Smart vs. Intelligent

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Difference between Smart and Intelligent

Synonyms are words that are similar in definition. However, usage plays a major role in determining the correctness of a synonym usage. For instance, if a synonym of big is great, and great is also a synonym of magnificent, it would be correct to say “magnificent God” (to mean great) but incorrect to say “magnificent pants” (to mean big). That being said, how are the words smart and intelligent alike or different?

Definition

Merriam-Webster defines “intelligence” as the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations, and is also the skilled use of reason. According to the dictionary, “intelligence” means the act of understanding. So, to describe something or someone as “intelligent” means they are capable of learning, understanding, using reason, and dealing with new situations around them.

On the other hand, the same dictionary defines “smart” as having an alert mind and the word’s synonyms are “witty” and “clever” and “bright”. It also is defined as “appealing to sophisticated taste”.

Explanation

From the definitions stated above, it can be said that being “intelligent” is an inherent characteristic of human beings. This is because all human beings are gifted with the ability to use reason and to understand.

This is quite different from being “smart”. Because being “smart” involves having a sharp and alert mind, this word is often used to describe the combination of an inherent characteristic that is intelligence, and a characteristic that is a result of experience and learned behavior. Being smart involves applying intelligence and practicality.

Usage and Implication

One can use “intelligent” to describe anything that can use reason and logic. For instance, we can say that human beings are more intelligent than chimpanzees, because humans are a more sophisticated degree of understand. We can also say that a Biology professor is intelligent, because he or she has a wide knowledge base about the subject matter at hand. A quiet student who always gets perfect scores on her exams can be called intelligent, because of her ability to understand all lessons covered.

However, the word “smart” is more experiential in nature. For example, one can say it was a “smart” decision because intelligence alone did not play a part in forming a decision, but “what if’s” brought about by experience have contributed too. Smart is also used to describe fashion sense, a house, an outfit, an office or a car, if it means the said item is “classy” and “sophisticated”. A smart boy in class may not get straight A’s, but is a quick thinker and can figure out how to win an obstacle race faster than the girl who gets straight A’s. Smart may also mean “clever” which may sometimes mean “shrewd”, as when someone dishonestly takes advantage of another by manipulation.

Summary

  • Both intelligence and smartness relate to the ability to think and learn.
  • Intelligence is inherent. Smartness is experiential and can be learned.
  • Intelligent is consistent with inherent mental ability. Smartness has several other connotations.

Which trait has more substance?
  • Smart
  • Intelligent
 
 

Discuss It: comments 1

Smart is in between clever and intelligent

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