Wisdom vs. Knowledge: What They Mean and When to Use Them

They're not always the same
What to Know

Knowledge usually refers to information or awareness that someone has about a subject, whether from education or experience, as in “she has a lot of first-hand knowledge about the video game industry as both a player and a designer.” Wisdom refers instead to someone’s good sense, judgment, or insight (“he demonstrated wisdom by not responding to the taunts of his political opponent”)—in other words, to their ability to process, apply, or otherwise act on knowledge.

old man with sad eyes looks at the camera

If you’re dealing strictly with information, understanding, or awareness, the word you’re looking for is knowledge:

Let me share some knowledge with you: unlike most bats, the Samoan flying fox is active primarily during the daytime.

It’s common knowledge that ancient Romans spoke Latin, not Italian.

To my knowledge, the bus is running late today because of the weather.

If you’re talking about sense, insight, or judgment (things that concern how we process or act on knowledge or experience), the word to reach for is wisdom:

Let me share some wisdom with you: putting up bat houses near your garden is a good idea because bats are great pollinators.

The best pearl of wisdom I ever received from my grandfather was “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

I’m not sure I agree with the wisdom of keeping such a small bus fleet in a city of this size.

Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars that emerge from our gums, and are so named because they usually appear in our late teens or early twenties—an age when, we hope, we have gained a certain level of maturity or “wisdom.”

This little nugget of knowledge is interesting on its own, but it can also be useful for telling the words wisdom and knowledge apart. We don’t call them “knowledge teeth,” after all. That’s because knowledge usually refers to information or awareness about a particular subject, rather than the good sense, judgment, or insight implied by wisdom. In other words, it’s not as if your final molars pop out once you’ve read a particular book or taken enough trips to the science museum. Knowledge is knowing that partially erupted wisdom teeth can lead to pericoronitis; wisdom is not sharing this fact with your best friend who is dentophobic (afraid of dentists).