Acumen vs. Acuity vs. Acuteness: What’s the Difference?

Every once in awhile there is a set of words that are just close enough to each other, whether in spelling, meaning, or pronunciation that we forget which is which.

Such is the case with acumen vs. acuity vs. acuteness. And what makes it worse, is that these are three words that we don’t use every day, so when they do come up in our writing, they seem ever more foreign.

What are the Differences Between Acumen, Acuity, and Acuteness?

In today’s post, I want to discuss the differences between these three words, their uses in a sentence, and give you a few ways that you can keep track of them from now on. After reading this post, you shouldn’t ever confuse these words with each other again.

When to Use Acumen

How do I used acumen in my writingAcumen is a noun meaning “quickness, accuracy, and keenness of judgment or insight.” For example,

  • His business acumen produced profitable year after profitable year.
  • The campaign manager’s political acumen won the election.

It is important to note that acumen is centered on being able to make good judgments and quick decisions, particularly in a given field (business, politics, agriculture, etc.).

When to Use Acuity

Acuity is also a noun and means “sharpness or keenness of thought, vision, or hearing.” For example,

  • Due to his age, his visual acuity is deteriorating.
  • Your intellectual acuity must be at the highest level to compete here.
  • People that I know who like to read poetry with acuity and intelligence.

Acuity is used primarily to refer to hearing, understanding, vision, wit, and certain diseases.

When to Use Acuteness

Acuteness is the noun derivation of the adjective acute, which is defined as “having or showing perceptive understanding or insight: shrewd” and “a keen, highly developed physical sense.” For example,

  • His acuteness of engines led him to correctly diagnose the problem.
  • He could not see, so the acuteness of his other senses is heightened.

Save the exceptions above, (hearing, understanding, vision, etc.), acuteness is more broadly used today than acuity when signifying general “sharpness” or “perception.”

Remember the Difference

As you can see, these three words have similar meanings, but there are differences.

While acuity and acuteness can refer to mental faculties like thought or perception, they can also apply to physical faculties like vision and hearing. Acumen, on the other hand, refers strictly to mental sharpness.

Also, as I said above, acumen is centered on the idea of making good judgments and quick decisions. Acuity and acuteness don’t necessarily imply those things.

Summary

While these words all have similar meanings, it is important to use them precisely in your writing and not to mix them up.

Acumen refers to a keenness and insight in a particular field like business.

Acuity refers to keenness of thought, vision, or hearing. Acuity has an earlier first recorded use than acuteness, but in practice its use has retreated somewhat.

Acuteness refers to keenness of understanding and a highly developed physical sense. Between acuity and acuteness, acuteness is used more frequently.