If, for example, one girl exploits her appearance to cheat around some males and I want to say that she is "smart" in a "bad" way can I say she is shrewd?

Which one of this words fits more this kind of "smart" people?

What's the difference between that words? (my dictionary see them as synonyms)

  • If she is cheating and cheating others like you said, I'd say that she is a cheater, in both senses. Apr 13, 2014 at 17:34
  • 1
    Also: manipulative
    – Helix Quar
    Apr 14, 2014 at 2:11

2 Answers 2


"Shrewd" is not necessarily negative - to call a businessman shrewd is generally a compliment, meaning "taking advantage of hidden opportunities". "Cunning" is more negative, meaning "good at deceiving people" (though in the past it used to be equivalent to "cute"!). "Sly" is about the same as "cunning". You might also consider "scheming" if she has specific intentions, and "devious" if she hides her true intentions.


Shrewd to me, has good & bad connotations. The good being clever & prudent in finding hidden possibilities, or devising new strategies to get a difficult or challenging task done.
The bad (negative) being use of cunning or slyness to achieve one’s means or desires, by using deceit or deviousness in some way. Both require a high measure of intelligence. Sentence example: “I’d much rather have shrewd friends in the good sense rather than the bad because I would tend to trust the former group more.”

Also, as a former psychology major, I think Psychologists should develop a “shrewdness scale” for employers, & those seeking potential mates to get an indication of whether the individual being tested leans on the positive or negative end of the scale, or falls somewhere in between, possibly indicating they’re not really that smart or sharp or, ideally, that they may exhibit traits of good business sense, advanced mathematical abilities, versatility of language use, & any number of other capabilities. But is a measure of “shrewdness,” whether on the positive or negative side, a good way to determine a person’s character or trustworthiness? Or perhaps it can be used as part of an arsenal of other tests, including from Psychology.

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