What does the word smart mean in this context?

  1. Is she smart meaning she is intelligent
  2. She is clean, neat, well dressed

I've looked up in dictionaries and I'm still confused what does smart mean in that context. Personally I think it means she is clever, because it is preceded by pretty but I am not sure.

Akiko is 20 years old, a second-year student at a language school in Tokyo. Her dad is a businessman, and her mom is a housewife. She has a brother in high school. She is pretty, gentle, and smart, but that doesn’t make her life any different.

She wants to have an outstanding and colorful life. She also wants to speak English fluently and to be able to find a good job in a big corporation. To achieve her goal, she has studied English for years, but she is still too shy to speak. Every time her high school friends come back from the U.S., they speak better English to foreigners than she does. They enjoy speaking a lot while she feels frustrated about her poor English.

  • Smart can also mean pain (both causing pain and feeling pain) and sometimes that pain may refer to social pain like shame. But that usage would be very obvious from context.
    – slebetman
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 23:46
  • @slebetman That meaning of smart is a verb, not an adjective like the others.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 23:07

4 Answers 4


To AmE speakers, the word smart generally means intelligent. (The OP's context)

To BrE speakers, the word smart generally means well-dressed.

That said, there are times when AmE speakers use smart to mean well dressed (a "sophisticated speaker" and there are times when BrE speakers use it to mean intelligent.

Only the context will tell you really. In this sentence: /She is pretty, gentle, and smart/, it means intelligent. There would be no reason, given the context, to be referring to her clothes.

  • 10
    I disagree with that last part. There would be nothing wrong with: She is pretty, gentle, and well-dressed.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 17:24
  • 3
    @J.R. I think Lambie meant there would be no reason for "smart" to mean well-dressed in that context. But then again I am an AmE speaker so I am biased to think the same. Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 23:54
  • @KodosJ - I don’t see anything in that context that would preclude the writer from talking about fashion rather than intelligence.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 0:48
  • @J.R. The second paragraph of the quoted text talks about her desire to speak English fluently. In that context, it's much more likely for smart to mean intelligent than well-dressed, although both are still possible. I don't see any connection between being well-dressed and speaking English, while I do see a connection between being intelligent and speaking English well as a foreigner. If the author meant well-dressed, it would appear to be irrelevant information, considering the context that follows.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 2:43
  • 10
    @J.R. Well-dressed is state, not a characteristic (sorry, I'm not an English speaker so I may have chosen incorrect words. Correct me please). Anyone may be well-dressed in one day and badly-dressed in another. But pretty and gentle are long-term features of someone, and does not change so often! So here, smart means intelligent. IMHO. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 7:56

When we're using "smart" in the sense of "stylish", we don't normally say that a person "is smart". We say that she "looks smart" or "dresses smartly". "Sally is smart" means she is intelligent. "Sally looks smart" means she is neat or stylish.

So most likely the writer here means "intelligent".

(As is often the case, this is not an absolute rule, you have to look at context. For example, if someone said, "The way she was able to give the right answer so quickly made Sally look smart", they surely mean "intelligent".)

  • In British English, although the American usage is more common than it once was, saying someone "is smart" to mean they're well-dressed is still more of a possibility here, I feel.
    – Muzer
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 8:37

"Smart" has two primary definitions (STYLISH) - having a clean, tidy, and stylish appearance and (INTELLIGENT) - intelligent, or able to think quickly or intelligently in difficult situations.

In most cases "smart" refers to intelligence.

In this context there are words pretty and gentle that refer to her attractiveness and character so smart definitely refers to her intelligence.

  • 2
    The words pretty and gentle refer to her (attractive) appearance and (kind, considerate) character, with no particular implications of stylishness or tidiness. But that aside, you're quite right that in context the third attribute is more likely to be a reference to brainpower than a further detail concerning her appearance. Besides which, as @P. E. Dant commented initially, with no other context we'd normally assume smart = clever rather than neatly-attired today anyway. Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 15:06

In my understanding I can say that smart can stand for be intelligent ( easy to understand things and, been able to give solution to issue ) then in the case of smarty looking is both dressing and nature

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