People who aren’t as intelligent as they make out to be often display these 10 subtle behaviors

Let’s face it. The world is full of know-it-alls who like the sound of their own voice a little too much. 

Some of them are even good enough to look like they’re smarter than they actually are.

Thankfully, it’s not too hard to spot them once you’ve figured out their tells.

Want to know if someone’s just pretending to be smart?

Pay attention to these signs!

1) They’re always so eager to show off

They take every opportunity they get to show off how “smart” they are.

It doesn’t matter to them if they’re surrounded by people who’d rather talk about Kpop instead of precious stones—they WILL talk.

They’re the kind of person who can make the average person go “ugh, who asked?” and get experts groaning from just how confidently incorrect they are.

Don’t confuse them for neurodivergent people who are just dumping about their latest fixation, of course.

Those people will also take every opportunity to talk about their interest, but they speak because they’re genuinely interested in talking about it, and not because they want to SHOW OFF what they know.

2) They act way too sure of themselves

Intelligent people, so goes the saying, are too full of doubts while stupid ones are too full of confidence.

And that saying is true in more ways than one. 

Intelligent people are also perfectly happy to entertain doubts and consider the possibility that they might be wrong.

People who are pretending to be smart, on the other hand, center their identity on the idea that they’re always right.

So when someone points out that they said something wrong, they’ll do everything to shut down the convo.

They might try to say something like “oh, we believe different things” at first. But if that doesn’t make people stop pointing out their errors, they’ll dig their heels in and start throwing personal insults.

The genuinely smart person does not take offense, and instead takes criticism as an opportunity to improve their ideas.

3) They try to look and sound smart

It’s not about being actually smart; it’s about being perceived as smart. And you know what we culturally associate with smarts? Nerds.

So they’ll try to make themselves look and sound nerdy.

They might wear glasses even if they have 20/20 vision.

They might hang out at the library even if all they do is play phone games.

And they might try to be broody and sit alone even if they’re not actually introverted.

They might also try talking in a higher-pitch, nasal voice, and then take the time to go “oh, I’m thinking, I’m thinking, wait…” as if they’re some philosopher who’s about to say something moving.

And you might get convinced at first, but when you really think about what they say, you realize that they’re not really that impressive.

4) They speak super fast

If you ever pay attention to the “smart” people on TV debates, you’ll see that the one who “wins” is usually the one who speaks super fast.

But don’t be fooled. It’s not because they’re smart—it’s simply because talking fast impresses the audience and intimidates their opponent.

There’s no real correlation between talking fast and being smart

But people would hear someone speak a thousand words a minute and think “hey, that person knows what they’re talking about!”

Most of the time they speak “fast” by using a lot of unnecessary words, like saying “so let’s say, hypothetically, that I am hungry and that I, hypothetically, have just woken up…” instead of simply saying “so I woke up hungry…”

5) They use excessively difficult language

Going beyond simply using a rapid-fire pace or speaking needlessly redundant phrases, people who want to look smart also use inappropriately difficult language.

They would say things like “henceforth” instead of “starting today” or “visage” instead of “face.”

There’s a time and place for words like these, of course. But they don’t seem to have gotten the memo, and happily talk posh even if it’s just the two of you doing laundry over the weekend.

This might make them seem “smart” to a lot of people, but genuinely intelligent people use language appropriate to the conversation.

6) Their ideas are all stolen

When they speak, they talk like they came up with those ideas themselves.

But try to do some digging online and you’ll learn that they just got it from some random poster on Quora.

Now there’s nothing wrong with picking up ideas from other people. 

Hardly anything is truly original, and if we never learned from one another then we’d probably still be in the stone age.

The problem is that they don’t give credit where it’s due. 

They don’t say “it’s not my idea, I read a post about it yesterday” or “I got the idea from a science journal” — instead they just sit back and accept praise.

7) They’re very arrogant

People who become more arrogant and entitled as they get older often possess these personality traits People who aren't as intelligent as they make out to be often display these 10 subtle behaviors

As I mentioned before, they’ll try to shut down people who try to prove them wrong. 

But I would like you to pay attention to the things they say when they do that.

Oftentimes you’ll find them trying to make others feel “smaller”. Let’s say that they made a mistake, and you tried to question them about it.

A genuinely smart person would try to understand you and make corrections if they’re wrong. An arrogant person will chide you and tell you that you don’t understand because you’re “narrow-minded” or “not open-minded enough” or even “stupid.”

The same feelings that make people want to look smarter than they actually are—insecurity, emasculation, fear—also inspire arrogance. They mask their inner insecurities by acting like they’re people worth listening to.

8) They quote bad sources

They’re so good at using their words and explaining their ideas that you might be tempted to nod along and go “hey, you have a point!”

But then they quote their sources (or maybe you stumble across them after the fact) and it turns out they got their ideas from some random guy spouting conspiracies on Facebook.

There are plenty of intellectuals on social media, don’t get me wrong. 

But there are also plenty of people who’re just out there just throwing ideas at the wall because it makes them feel smart.

Smart people look for sources first, and then change their opinion. 

Those pretending to be smart look for sources that validate their opinion, even if those sources are of low quality.

9) They hate it when you dig deeper

Genuinely intelligent people and people who are simply pretending react very differently to the word “why.”

People who are actually smart and knowledgeable actually enjoy it when people ask them “why”. 

They want people to ask them questions because that means that people are curious and want to learn more.

But people who are simply pretending don’t see it that way. Ask them to elaborate, and they’ll assume that you’re questioning their intelligence. Ask them why, and they’ll tell you that you can figure it out yourself.

For a person pretending to be smart, “why” is a form of attack.

10) They’re not open to ideas

Intelligent people are open-minded

The fact that they’re open-minded is, in fact, one of the reasons why they’re smarter than the rest—they are willing to ask questions, to dig deep, and consider that they might be wrong.

All of that means their mind gets a lot of practice in taking in new information and understanding new concepts.

But the problem with new ideas is that sometimes they prove our preexisting beliefs wrong. And we don’t FEEL smart when we’re proven wrong.

That’s why people who want to look smart are completely closed-off to new ideas

They might spend years—even decades—saying the same things. It doesn’t matter even if they’ve already been proven wrong.

Final thoughts:

As annoying as pretentious know-it-alls may be, we’ll just have to live with the fact that they exist. In fact, they’re everywhere.

Perhaps the simplest way to deal with them is to nod along and act like you’re impressed. This could keep them calm and manageable enough.

And if they’re sputtering nonsense, you might want to share your knowledge with them. Just be patient if they’d act cocky. At least you’re trying.

And last but not the least, if they say something and they’re confident about it, don’t believe them right away.

The important thing is to be discerning but extra kind. There’s no need to hate on them. 

Don’t worry. Let’s just hope their intelligence will catch up with their confidence sooner or later.

Picture of Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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