Definition of clever in English:



  • 1Quick to understand, learn, and devise or apply ideas; intelligent.

    ‘she was an extremely clever and studious young woman’
    ‘how clever of him to think of this!’
    • ‘It seems to me it was quite clever of the union to refrain from publicly backing their stance, as this would have opened them up to legal action.’
    • ‘As you may have gathered, fairies are among the most powerful and clever of species.’
    • ‘As far as the local cat population in Elstow is concerned, how clever of them to wait until Mr Suter is away on holiday before they decide to devastate his garden.’
    • ‘This was an interesting idea and it was very clever of Serocath to come up with it.’
    • ‘While being quick and clever gives you an edge, this is one of those instant karma weeks - so if you don't want any, don't dish any.’
    • ‘‘It was very clever of him to go for part-ownership of Canova's The Three Graces,’ says another critic.’
    • ‘It was clever of her not to have asked ‘Do you want to come?’’
    • ‘And how clever of them to choose an author who is so wildly popular with the young.’
    • ‘I had to admit, she was either one of the coolest grown-ups I had ever met, or one of the most clever of criminal accomplices.’
    • ‘I thought that was clever of me, more clever than usual that is, haha.’
    • ‘How clever of Dobbies to fly him in to its biggest centres to meet his devotees.’
    • ‘Pretension was compounded by the most clever of the cultured barbarians who pretended to be above it all.’
    • ‘Jo was clever, cunning, intelligent, very quick, and could see things which other people couldn't.’
    • ‘Yes and I must say it was quite clever of you to figure that out so easily.’
    • ‘He was of sturdy stock and clever of mind that saw him later in his career in the command of a privateer.’
    • ‘It was clever of Fry to write a film score decades before the invention of the motion picture.’
    • ‘It was something smart, smart enough to fool even Amelia, who was the most clever of the three of them.’
    • ‘How clever of you to have worked out at this late date that my name is Scott.’
    • ‘I think we're all to blame but we're to blame because we weren't clever enough to understand how the system worked.’
    • ‘How clever of the teacher, she thought, to get us so caught up in manipulating our legs into that position so that we were quiet for her for a little while.’
    intelligent, bright, smart, brilliant
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    1. 1.1 Skilled at doing or achieving something; talented.
      ‘he was very clever at getting what he wanted’
      ‘both Grandma and Mother were clever with their hands’
      • ‘Seasoned watchers of him will attest to his annoying habit of fading out of games and trying to be too clever at times.’
      • ‘He's a good header of the ball and clever with it.’
      • ‘You are youthful, intense and clever at work to achieve goals and success in a tough assignment.’
      • ‘It was jolly clever of Spalding Gray to be able to sit down like that for hours.’
      • ‘Is he particularly clever at digging holes and burying the cash?’
      • ‘They're never overly clever with anything that they do, chord progressions and bass lines are hardly contrived.’
      • ‘Or are the birds simply so clever at finding a carcass soon after the animal's death that its owner concludes they are the perpetrators?’
      • ‘Women have become incredibly clever at explaining these choices in ways that barely mention social pressures or male desires.’
      • ‘Like Mamie, she had studied fashion design and was always clever with her hands.’
      • ‘Receivers are simply too clever at this level for that.’
      • ‘She enjoys disjunction, and she's also very clever with film technology.’
      • ‘People became so clever at avoiding the tax, revenue fell and the law was tightened.’
      • ‘What makes them artists is when they can create pictures and you can visualize what they're saying and they can play around with the rhymes and be clever with words.’
      • ‘You can buy an optional i-Mon VFD to show through the front of the case, or you can hack in a Matrix Orbital display if you're clever with the screws.’
      • ‘There aren't many that can compete physically with big Brian Irvine but Flo is so clever with the ball at his feet that the need for a physical contest is almost non-existent.’
      • ‘He proved clever with traps and caught a hare or two every other day, the basis of a flavorsome if somewhat monotonous stew.’
      • ‘He was a confident trickster and was very clever at getting people to take his side.’
      • ‘Being clever with a cleaver does not run in his family.’
      • ‘Fascism came to be led by the brutal, the ignorant and the criminal - men who were clever at exploiting the irrationality of the masses.’
      • ‘He's wise and he's very clever at the game and I think he's going into his testimonial season so it's working out fantastic for him.’
      skilful, dexterous, adroit, deft, nimble, nimble-fingered, handy, adept
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    2. 1.2 Showing skill and originality; ingenious.
      ‘a simple but clever idea for helping people learn computing’
      ‘he taught the dog to perform some very clever tricks’
      • ‘Civil servants, accustomed to hiding behind walls of secrecy, might simply devise clever new ways to foil the public's right to know.’
      • ‘It probably seemed clever at the time but, five years on, hung without any sense of history or irony in a big official institution, it feels almost depressing.’
      • ‘According to Strong AI, a computer may play chess intelligently, make a clever move, or understand language.’
      • ‘The originals used a clever little insert that slipped right inside a .45 magazine.’
      • ‘A paid designer will use all sorts of clever artistic tricks - you now know that you will lose clients that way.’
      • ‘However, while this approach is clever at first, it wears out its welcome before the film reaches its conclusion.’
      • ‘It reminds you how clever, how witty, how well thought out the song is.’
      • ‘It was clever, original, surprisingly complex and - most importantly - was not manufactured like so much of our contemporary music.’
      • ‘This is supposed to be satirical, but it's neither original nor clever, and the effect of viewing this cheese wears off pretty quickly.’
      • ‘Such clever allusions in the original title must have been deemed too esoteric for potential buyers.’
      • ‘The game is not especially challenging, the hurdles one must overcome are not particularly original or clever, and I soon lost interest.’
      • ‘This has got to be one of the most clever of e-mails.’
      • ‘The art of the quick retort, the clever reply, the sharp tongue are things many of us wish we had more of.’
      • ‘What gain is there in silencing another, through ridicule, for example, or the clever use of debating skills, if it is at the cost of truth?’
      • ‘I saw nothing original or clever or ingenious about this film.’
      • ‘We must always remember that what lures people here is the prospect of original and clever ideas.’
      • ‘What was needed therefore was a superlative comeback - original, clever without pretentiousness and above all very funny.’
      • ‘Its initial premise - follow a single murder case for an entire season - was clever at the time.’
      • ‘There are cataclysmic family secrets that are revealed, and a Shakespearean finale that is a clever spin on the original.’
      • ‘It was a clever and original fundraising idea that offered people a challenge.’
      shrewd, astute, sharp, acute, quick, sharp-witted, quick-witted
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    3. 1.3informal usually with negative Sensible; well advised.
      ‘Joe had a feeling it wasn't too clever, leaving Dolly alone’
      • ‘The view expressed by Mr. Winer, and to a lesser extent Dr. Grant, is often considered very clever and sensible.’
      • ‘This is not as clever as it sounds, because Teazers stocks a comprehensive range of men's deodorants in their bathrooms.’
      • ‘Then Chicken Little crying wolf won't look like such a clever strategy, will it?’
      wise, sensible, prudent, politic, shrewd, astute, canny, sagacious, common-sense, commonsensical, sound, well advised, well judged, well thought out, considered, thoughtful, perceptive, discerning, clear-sighted, insightful, far-sighted, percipient, discriminating, informed, intelligent, enlightened, logical, rational
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  • 2British informal predicative, with negative Healthy or well.

    ‘I was up and about by this time though still not too clever’
    • ‘After several midnight loo dashes we woke up on Tuesday morning feeling not too clever.’
    • ‘If you're feeling not too clever for some reason, stick on some music - it helps!’
    • ‘I didn't feel too clever driving back either, but managed to avoid passing out on the M1 and got us all back safely.’


  • too clever by half

    • informal (of a person) annoyingly proud of their intelligence or skill, and liable to overreach themselves.

      ‘he always was too clever by half’
      • ‘The theory is certainly instructive and clever, but many feel that it is too clever by half.’
      • ‘Too often the band's lush harmonies and soothing guitars are accompanied by an annoying tendency to be too clever by half.’
      • ‘But policymakers are too clever by half to grasp it.’
      • ‘One must be clever, as long as one is not too clever by half.’
      • ‘In fact some of them are too clever by half, as you ought to know.’
      • ‘Although some critics have said Danny has only been too clever by half on Kaya, there is no question that he has proved his staying power.’
      • ‘The only problem with such a bright Artificial Intelligence is that it would be too clever by half.’
      • ‘He has a tendency to be too clever by half, but no longer tries to let everybody know it.’
      • ‘It's the most sophisticated electorate in the land - and too clever by half.’
      • ‘The film is too clever by half and so beautifully played it doesn't matter.’


Middle English (in the sense ‘quick to catch hold’, only recorded in this period): perhaps of Dutch or Low German origin, and related to cleave. In the late 16th century the term came to mean (probably through dialect use) ‘manually skilful’; the sense ‘possessing mental agility’ dates from the early 18th century.