Courses and dictionaries teach us that saĝa is equivalent to the English word "wise". However, I must say the Esperanto word is used way more frequently in my opinion. On the other hand, I haven't seen a translation of the English "smart". Can we say that saĝa equals smart in modern use? To be clear, what I am talking about here is meaning based on usage, not based on definitions or dictionaries.

I also know of the word "inteligenta", which am am supposing is used the same way as the English "intelligent", but this word might actually also cover "smart".

Here are variations of a sentence and below each one my impression of which context it usually appears in.

She is a smart girl.

A student talking about a friend.

She is an intelligent girl.

A mother talking about her daughter, or a teacher talking about a student.

She is a wise girl.

Found in a book with an historical setting.

The question is, in which of the contexts does saĝa fit? The last one? All three?

  • Have you not seen inteligenta or does that mean something different to you? – Airvian Jan 15 '17 at 1:51
  • @Airvian Mi redaktis la demandon – Antonia Montaro Jan 15 '17 at 22:38
  • I still don't understand the distinction you're making between smart and intelligent. All the terms under discussion have to do with the ability to learn and retain information, understand, and/or make good decisions and good judgments. Sometimes people blur the meanings of the words in relation to these sorts of things. – Tomaso Alexander Jan 16 '17 at 2:42

Before going into my explanation about Esperanto, I would first want to point out that I understand the difference between the three English words "smart", "intelligent" and "wise" in a different way than the way the difference has been presented in the question. (I am not a native speaker of English, but I have lived in the UK for six years, so I believe that I have some competence in judging the meanings of English words; additionally I have checked some online resources that describe the difference between the meaning of the words.) For me, the difference between "smart" and "intelligent" is mainly about more practical vs. more abstract mental skills. The difference between "wise" and the other two is that wisdom is something you acquire through a lot of real life experience, so the adjective "wise" can hardly ever be applied to young people.

In Esperanto, there are only two very commonly used adjectives, "saĝa" and "inteligenta", for expressing the general mental skills expressed by the three English adjectives "smart", "intelligent" and "wise". While "inteligenta" emphasizes more the abstract mental skills needed for scientific thinking, "saĝa" emphasizes more the practical mental skills acquired through life experience. So I would always translate "intelligent" as "inteligenta" and "wise" as "saĝa", but for "smart" the translation depends on the context: Sometimes "saĝa" can be misleading, because it might be misunderstood as "wise", i.e. being able to make good judgements due to a lot of life experience, and sometimes "inteligenta" can be misleading, because it can be misunderstood as "intelligent", i.e. having abstract as opposed to practical mental skills. Which one to choose depends on which of these potential misunderstandings is more likely to happen in the given context. Personally, in case of doubt I generally go for "saĝa" because of its shortness.

Another word with a meaning similar to "smart" is "sprita" (literally "witty" or "clever"). My impression is that it is used much less nowadays than in classical texts, but maybe it should have a bit of a come-back.

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  • Thankyou! I agree, wise has to do with age and experience. I was trying to show the difference between them in use/context, and I did so in a very informal way. – Antonia Montaro Jan 21 '17 at 0:36
  • Yet another word with a meaning similar to "smart" is "sagaca", which maybe also deserves to be used more. – Marcos Cramer Jan 27 '17 at 18:39

For ”smart”, I sometimes use the words ruza (clever) or even lerta (skilled). They may not fit the English word 100 %, but they are shorter than inteligenta and less ”wise” than saĝa. :-)

Jen lerta movo! (That’s a smart move! – e.g. in Chess.)

Ŝi estas tre ruza spiono. (She’s a very smart spy.)

The word ruza has a shade of stealth, cheating, cf. the dictionary defitinition: Kapabla elpensi lertajn, artifikajn rimedojn, por atingi celon, k uzi ilin, ne rimarkate de aliaj

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    I would also say that ruza has a strong negative connotation, as sly, sneaky, insidious, whilst I (as a non-native english speaker) observe a rather positive connotation in "smart". – Vera Johanna Jan 20 '17 at 13:02

saĝo = Eksterordinara, supera scio kaj inteligento

Above average knowledge and and intelligence.

inteligento = Kapablo facile kompreni kaj vigle pensi

An ability to understand easily and think actively.


I think that word you want is inteligento.

  • Li estas inteligenta
  • La kato estas pli inteligenta ol la muso
  • Mi volas esti inteligenta
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"Saĝa" and "Inteligenta" are for me different. I always find it strange when a beginner use "saĝa" when "intelligent" would fit more. I correct some of them, but sometimes it is hard to tell if they used an automatic translator or if they really meant it. They tend to use it less often when they get better.

But since there is a large influx of beginners (and they are the major part of the Esperanto activity in the Internet) it is possible (and plausible for me) that "saĝa" takes over "inteligenta" after XX years. I don't think that it is the case yet.

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  • Would you say that inteligenta is a better translation of "smart"? – Antonia Montaro Jan 15 '17 at 19:28
  • It depends on the English sentence. – Vanege Jan 15 '17 at 19:43

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