Difference between Smile and Smirk

Key Difference: The main difference between a smile and a smirk is that a smile is when the lip curl upwards at the corner to express happiness or contentedness; whereas a smirk is a type of smile that displays smugness, conceitedness, or when one is pleased with themselves.

One often hears of the word smile and smirk. What exactly is the difference between the two terms? What does it mean to smile or to smirk? While the two may sound similar, the truth of the matter is that they are different.

It is often very easy to confuse the two together. As both of them have something to do with the lips turning up at the corners. However, what most people don’t realize is that the two evoke very different kind of emotions.

A smile is a facial expression that expresses happiness. Here, the lips tend to stretch upward at the corners and the teeth may or not be visible depending on the person, or on their level of happiness. A person who is content may only smile without the teeth showing, whereas a person who is very truly happy may smile with the teeth showing. However, this also depends upon person to person. Some people tend to smile with the teeth showing regardless of their happiness level, whereas others tend to prefer not the teeth showing.


A smirk, on the other hand, is also a facial expression, however the emotion it conveys is very different from the one in a smile. Originally, the two were the same; both terms were used interchangeably to refer to a smile. However, over time the term smirk took on a different meaning. It began being used to refer to a particular smile, one that has less to do with happiness, and more to do with conceitedness and smugness.

A person often smiles in situations where they are not happy, but are rather feeling something else. A person who is pleased with himself or herself or is feeling conceited or smug may also smile. However, this is often a half-smile, where only one side of the lips curl upwards, and the teeth are rarely showing in this kind of smile. This smile is known as a smirk.

Comparison between Smile and Smirk:




Definition (Oxford Dictionaries)

A pleased, kind, or amused facial expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed.

A smug, conceited, or silly smile.

Also known as




Facial Expression

Facial Expression


Happy, pleased, content

Insolence, scorn, smugness, pleased with oneself



Sarcastic or half-hearted


More friendly

Less friendly


The teeth may or may not be exposed

The teeth are usually not exposed


Typically, both corners of the lips turn upward.

Usually, only one side of the lips turns up.


In a genuine smile, the muscles around the eyes tend to contract

Typically does not have any effect on the eyes

Reference: Oxford Dictionaries (Smile and Smirk), Wikipedia (Smile and Smirk), Affectiva
Image Courtesy: womenshealthmag.com, coolspotters.com

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