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Both 上手 and 得意 seem to both mean something along the lines of "good at" or "skilled". However, I don't understand the difference (if there is one) between them. In fact, some of the sentences on jisho.org are constructed pretty much the same but with these words (and sometimes a particle) interchanged:

料理が上手ですね。
料理は得意です。

I can't find any differences through other sentences and contexts either. So, what is the difference between them? Do they imply slightly different things? Is there a time you can use one, but not the other?

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上手です」と「得意です」の意味の違いは? 他人のことを言うときには「得意」、「上手」ともに用いることが可能ですが、自分の技量について述べるときは「得意」は使えても「上手」は使いづらい印象があります。 この違いはやはり両者の意味的な違いに起因しているようです。どちらも技量を述べるのに用いられますが、「得意」は主体自身が己の技量に対して抱いている自信を表したり、また技量の度合いの高い様子をあらわしているのに対し、「上手」は主体の技量自体というよりは主体の行為から生じるありさま、たとえば何かを生み出す行為なら生み出された物の様、行為自体であればその行為の様子を評価していると思われます。つまり、「得意」は何かを生み出す能力(の自覚)を表し、「上手」はその能力によって生み出されたものへの評価を表しているということです。両者の違いでは特に「評価」を表し得るか否かという点が重要です。この違いは次のような例を見ると明らかになります。

○この絵は上手に描けていますね。 ×この絵は得意に描けていますね。

絵は生産物であるため、生産物(あるいは生産行為)に対する評価として「上手」を用いることは可能ですが、主体の持つ技量を表す「得意」を「絵」に対して用いることは出来ません。また「上手」の対義語である「下手」も「この絵は下手だ」のように評価に用いることができますが、「得意」の対義語である「苦手」は「この絵は苦手だ」としても評価の意味にはなりません。また「苦手」は「納豆が苦手だ」のように技量の有無から転じて好き嫌いも述べられます。このように「得意」、「苦手」は評価というより主体の意識を表していると言えます。 ここから考えると、自己の技量を述べるとき「上手」を用いることがためらわれるのは、本来他者が行うべき評価という行為(特に高める評価)を自己に対して行うことへの不自然さ、傲慢さといった点に起因していると思われます。一方で「得意」は技量に対する意識を表すため、自己の技量を述べる際に問題なく使えるということになります。ただし自己を低める評価は謙遜につながるため「私は絵が下手です」ということができます。

Translation :

What is the difference between 『得意です』 and 『上手です』? 得意 and 上手 both can be used when we talk about someone else. However, it would NOT be appropriate to use 上手 when we talk about ourselves.

This difference of usage comes from the the meanings of the two words. Both are used talking about skills, capabilities, etc. 得意 denotes the "confidence" or the "competence" of the skills that the "oneself" has, while 上手 denotes the "characteristic" of the result of the action made by the oneself, or more saying about the "evaluation", "assessment" of the things, the result of the "action" made by the oneself. Thus, we can conclude like this. 得意 denotes the "self awareness of his/her capability ( to do or make something ), whereas 上手 denotes the "evaluation" or the "assessment" of the things or result of the actions made by the aforementioned oneself's capability. The peculiarity of the difference is whether either word is able to denote the "evaluation" or the "assessment". Let us compare the below 2 speeches so that we can comprehend the difference more clearly.

○この絵は上手に描けていますね。 ( ○ This picture is drawn very nicely )

×この絵は得意に描けていますね。 ( ✕ )

The above picture is a "product" by the oneself. Thus it is appropriate to use the word 上手 in order to "assess" the properties of the product or the "skill" to produce the picture. But we can not use the word 得意 here since the word 得意 denotes the pure capability of the oneself. The antonym of the word 上手, "下手" can be used to assess something such as a speech "この絵は下手だ" ( This picture is not good. ), but the antonym of the word 得意, "苦手" can not used be here for the assessment of the picture. A speech like "この絵は苦手だ" ( I am bad at drawing this picture ) will not make sense here. The antonym, "苦手" can be used to express one's likes and dislikes of things from the meaning of the word 苦手 ( one's non-capability ). Therefore the word 得意, and its antonym 苦手 denote the "consciousness of one's capability" rather than the "evaluation", "assessment".

Concluding from the above examples, we would like to say the reason why 上手 is not appropriate to be used when we talk about ourselves is basing on the fact that the "evaluation", "assessment" should be done by the others not by ourselves. It is unnatural and could indicate one's "arrogance". 得意, denoting purely the "capability of oneself", thus it will cause no problem to use it when we talk about ourselves. However, when we are so sure and aware of the "humbleness" of ourselves, we can use 上手 even when we talk ourselves. The example is this.

私は絵が下手です。 ( I am not good at drawing pictures. )


From the above source, I think your sayings,

料理が上手ですね。

can be ( or be recommended to be ) used when talking about someone else.

while

料理は得意です。

This kind of speech can be used either when you talk about yourself or others.

Examples

私は料理が得意です。 ( I am good at cooking. )

貴方は料理が得意です。 ( You are good at cooking. )

Have a good luck.

  • Updated since I noticed I had missed to translate the part of the source. Thank you. – Kentaro Tomono Aug 2 '15 at 18:12
  • This is an old topic, yet I figured I'd still point this out: "However, when we are so sure and aware of the 'humbleness' of ourselves, we can use 上手 even when we talk ourselves." I think you meant to say 下手 here? – Yeti Ape Apr 26 '18 at 6:34
  • So in short 上手 is objective ('is good at'), whereas 得意 is subjective ('is confident to be good at')? – Mathieu Bouville Jan 26 at 22:04
  • @MathieuBouville I don't know why this old thread was hooked up now. IMO, people rarely say 「私はテニスが上手ですよ」( I am good at Tennis ) but would rather choose to say, 「私はテニスが得意ですよ」 ( My specialty is Tennis ). IMO, if you say 「私は×××が上手ですよ」, it sounds a bit arrogant. Though exceptions are many. – Kentaro Tomono Jan 26 at 22:20
  • @MathieuBouville You may be right. According to my quote in answer from Alc Inc. 他人のことを言うときには「得意」、「上手」ともに用いることが可能ですが、自分の技量について述べるときは「得意」は使えても「上手」は使いづらい印象があります So, here the terms "objective" and "subjective" are at issue. May be it's vice versa. 上手 is rather subjective ( since people around you say that ) and 得意 is objective ( Not the people around you but you yourself are confident in your skill. ). – Kentaro Tomono Jan 26 at 22:28
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My understanding is that 上手 is used when describing other people, so you would never compliment yourself with it. This would be why the first example sentence you have there has ね at the end of it because the speaker is saying that the listener is a good cook.

得意 would be the preferred word to use when describing your own abilities.

  • 2
    +1 for the first paragraph. The content of your last sentence is not quite perfectly correct. We use 「得意」 to describe others' abilities as well. – l'électeur Aug 2 '15 at 11:06
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The difference of 上手 and 得意 are explained correctly in all those discussions above. However, I would like to add a little more of 上手. We can use 上手 when we are talking about a willingness to improve your skills for something.

Eg; 私は日本語が上手になりたいです。- I want to become good at Japanese.

Hope it will help.

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