What’s the difference between clever, smart, and wise?

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Are the words clever, smart, and wise the same? Not exactly.

“Smart” simply means intelligent. Someone who is smart knows a lot and is usually a fast learner. Being smart is a good thing.

The word “clever” also means intelligent, but in a creative way or in a tricky way. Depending on the context, being clever might be a good thing if you’ve discovered a “clever solution” to a problem, meaning a creative and intelligent solution. Or being clever can be a bad thing, like if a criminal discovers a “clever way to break into a house,” using creativity and intelligence for bad purposes.

The word “wise” is like intelligent, but it’s deeper. Someone who is wise has good judgment; they can distinguish between right and wrong and know what is best in a situation. Being wise often comes from life experience and/or deep study.

So the words smart, clever, and wise all have to do with intelligence, but there are some small differences in their connotations.

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