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Cunning vs. Deception: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on December 20, 2023
Cunning is the skill or cleverness in achieving one's goals, often in a deceptive or sly manner, while deception is the act of misleading or deceiving someone, concealing the truth.

Key Differences

Cunning is an attribute or quality denoting cleverness or ingenuity, particularly in devising or achieving goals, sometimes through deceptive means. Deception, on the other hand, is an action or practice of deliberately misleading someone, typically for personal gain or advantage.
Cunning can have neutral or slightly negative connotations, implying shrewdness or astuteness. Deception is generally considered negative, as it involves dishonesty or falsification.
Cunning is often used in situations requiring strategic thinking or problem-solving, potentially including manipulation. Deception is strictly about misleading or tricking others, often involving false statements or misrepresentations.
Cunning may not always involve bad intentions; it can be seen as resourcefulness. Deception, however, inherently involves the intent to deceive or mislead.
Cunning is sometimes admired for its cleverness, especially if it leads to positive outcomes. Deception is typically frowned upon as it involves betrayal of trust or truth.

Comparison Chart


Cleverness in achieving goals, sometimes slyly
Act of misleading or concealing truth

Moral Connotation

Neutral to slightly negative
Generally negative


Strategic thinking, problem-solving
Deliberate misleading or trickery


Not always malevolent
Inherently involves dishonest intent


Can be admired for cleverness
Often viewed negatively

Cunning and Deception Definitions


Skill in achieving one's ends by indirect, secretive means.
She used her cunning to navigate the complex political landscape.


The practice of concealing the truth or misrepresenting reality.
The novel's plot revolves around a web of deception and lies.


Cunning refers to having or showing skill in achieving goals by deceit or evasion.
His cunning plan allowed him to outsmart his competitors.


The process of making someone believe something that is not true.
The advertisement was criticized for its deception about the product's benefits.


The ability to achieve goals with ingenuity and sometimes deception.
His cunning in business dealings earned him a formidable reputation.


Deception means the act of deceiving or misleading someone.
The spy used deception to gather confidential information.


Characterized by being clever and resourceful in tricky situations.
The cunning fox managed to escape the trap.


A strategy designed to deceive, mislead, or trick someone.
The magician's act was based on clever deception.


Cleverness or astuteness, especially for practical purposes.
The lawyer's cunning tactics won the difficult case.


The act of causing someone to accept as true what is false.
The fraud involved an elaborate scheme of deception.


Marked by or given to artful subtlety and deceptiveness.


The use of deceit.


Executed with or exhibiting ingenuity.


Can "cunning" describe a person?

Yes, it describes someone skilled in deception or manipulation.

What does "cunning" mean?

Cunning refers to showing skill in achieving one's ends by deceit or evasion.

Is "cunning" always negative?

Often, but it can be admired for its cleverness in some contexts.

Does "cunning" imply intelligence?

Yes, it generally suggests a clever or shrewd nature.

Can animals be described as "cunning"?

Yes, often to describe their survival instincts or cleverness.

Is "cunning" a noun or an adjective?

It's both; as a noun, it refers to the skill in deceit, and as an adjective, it describes someone with that skill.

Is "cunning" a common word?

It's moderately common, especially in literature.

Is "deception" always intentional?

Yes, it involves deliberate misleading or false impressions.

Can "deception" be a good thing?

Rarely, it's mostly seen as unethical or morally wrong.

What's the difference between "deception" and "misunderstanding"?

Deception involves intentional misleading, while misunderstandings are usually unintentional.

How do you use "cunning" in a sentence?

Example: "The spy used his cunning to evade capture."

Can "cunning" be positive?

Sometimes, when it refers to resourcefulness or ingenuity.

Can "deception" be legal?

It can be, but it often has negative legal and moral implications.

Does "deception" imply harm?

Not always, but it usually leads to mistrust or betrayal.

How is "deception" used in a sentence?

Example: "The magician's act relied on clever deception."

Can "deception" be accidental?

Typically, it's intentional; accidental misinformation is not usually termed deception.

What's a synonym for "cunning"?

Crafty, wily, or sly.

What's a synonym for "deception"?

Fraud, trickery, or deceit.

What does "deception" mean?

Deception is the act of misleading or tricking someone.

Is "deception" a noun or a verb?

It's a noun; the act of deceiving is the verb form.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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