com·​pe·​tent | \ ˈkäm-pə-tənt How to pronounce competent (audio) \

Essential Meaning of competent

1 : having the necessary ability or skills : able to do something well or well enough to meet a standard a competent [=capable] teacher She is a competent [=adequate] portrait painter but she excels with landscapes.
2 law : able to take part in a trial The defendant was declared competent to stand trial. a competent witness

Full Definition of competent

1 : proper or rightly pertinent
2 : having requisite or adequate ability or qualities : fit a competent teacher a competent piece of work
3 : legally qualified or adequate a competent witness
4 : having the capacity to function or develop in a particular way: such as
a : having the capacity to initiate an immune response following exposure to an antigen antibody production by immunologically competent B cells
b of a bacterial cell : capable of taking up exogenous DNA (as from a plasmid) during genetic transformation natural and artificially-produced competent cells

Other Words from competent

competently adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for competent



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for competent

sufficient, enough, adequate, competent mean being what is necessary or desirable. sufficient suggests a close meeting of a need. sufficient savings enough is less exact in suggestion than sufficient. do you have enough food? adequate may imply barely meeting a requirement. the service was adequate competent suggests measuring up to all requirements without question or being adequately adapted to an end. had no competent notion of what was going on

Examples of competent in a Sentence

… he was tolerated, if not endorsed as the competent painter he was. — Markus Zusak, The Book Thief, 2005 The crafting of fine violins has proceeded for centuries as a secret art, handed down through apprenticeships from generation to generation. It takes 8 years, at least, to train a competent craftsman, decades to hone a master. — Richard Lipkin, Science News, 3 Sept. 1994 "Resort cities're transient places," the detective argued. " … That doesn't mean the police aren't competent." — Joseph Wambaugh, The Secrets of Harry Bright, 1985 … I discovered that Lieutenant Lincoln—a much-admired man hereabouts, and, I imagine, an exceedingly competent physician—was from Worcester … — Alexander Woollcott, letter, 2 Oct. 1917 The defendant was declared competent to stand trial. any competent mechanic should be able to fix that
See More
Recent Examples on the Web The characters are all ultra-competent, and their skill keeps the action zipping along. Eric Mcquade, The Atlantic, 27 Dec. 2021 Poor Frank Vogel, a highly competent and intelligent coach who has through no fault of his own been exiled to the island of misfit toys. Los Angeles Times, 18 Dec. 2021 Even in three defeats, the Bulldogs were mostly competent in their half-court defense. David Woods, The Indianapolis Star, 12 Dec. 2021 Surely, with the appointment of the highly competent United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, retailers thought all the tariff angst would soon fade away and a degree of normality would return to the markets. Rick Helfenbein, Forbes, 11 Oct. 2021 Instead, after old Olivi dies of the flu, control of the firm is seized by young Olivi, a hardened veteran of the trenches and highly competent businessman who has nothing but contempt for his buffoonish employer. Sigrid Nunez, Harper's Magazine, 28 Sep. 2021 The reasons for this situation go back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the nineteen-nineties, when highly competent engineers, programmers, and technicians were suddenly left adrift. Joshua Yaffa, The New Yorker, 23 May 2021 The otherwise highly competent, trusted therapist couldn’t comprehend that climate change was the sole cause of her distress. Isobel Whitcomb, Scientific American, 19 Apr. 2021 Along the way Austin also walked the talk on diversity, mentoring a highly competent cohort of Black officers. Editorial Board Star Tribune, Star Tribune, 10 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'competent.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of competent

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for competent

Middle English, suitable, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, from Latin competent-, competens, from present participle of competere — see compete

Learn More About competent

Time Traveler for competent

Time Traveler

The first known use of competent was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near competent




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for competent

Last Updated

16 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Competent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jan. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for competent


com·​pe·​tent | \ ˈkäm-pə-tənt How to pronounce competent (audio) \

Kids Definition of competent

: capable sense 2, efficient a competent teacher

Other Words from competent

competently adverb


com·​pe·​tent | \ ˈkäm-pət-ənt How to pronounce competent (audio) \

Medical Definition of competent

: having the capacity to function or develop in a particular way specifically : having the capacity to respond (as by producing an antibody) to an antigenic determinant immunologically competent cells


com·​pe·​tent | \ ˈkäm-pə-tənt How to pronounce competent (audio) \

Legal Definition of competent

1 : having or showing requisite or adequate ability or qualities a competent lawyer competent representation by counsel
2a : free from addiction or mental defect that renders one incapable of taking care of oneself or one's property
b : capable of understanding one's position as a criminal defendant and the nature of the criminal proceedings and able to participate in one's defense — compare capacity, incompetent, insanity
3 : legally qualified or adequate: as
a : having the necessary power or authority a judge of competent jurisdictionU.S. Code
b : qualified for presentation in court : admissible as evidence or capable of giving admissible evidence a competent witness
c : intelligent a competent waiver

More from Merriam-Webster on competent

Nglish: Translation of competent for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of competent for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!