pro·​fi·​cient | \ prə-ˈfi-shənt How to pronounce proficient (audio) \

Definition of proficient

: well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge

Other Words from proficient

proficient noun
proficiently adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for proficient

proficient, adept, skilled, skillful, expert mean having great knowledge and experience in a trade or profession. proficient implies a thorough competence derived from training and practice. proficient in translating foreign languages adept implies special aptitude as well as proficiency. adept at doing long division skilled stresses mastery of technique. a skilled surgeon skillful implies individual dexterity in execution or performance. skillful drivers expert implies extraordinary proficiency and often connotes knowledge as well as technical skill. expert in the evaluation of wines

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If you are proficient or adept at something you are skillful—perhaps even expert. Proficient, adept, skillful, and expert are all synonyms, but subtle differences can be discerned between these terms as well. Proficient usually describes pure ability that comes from training and practice ("a proficient writer"). Adept suggests an innate ability as well as a learned skill ("an adept card player"). Skillful suggests being very able at a particular task ("a skillful surgeon"). Expert suggests having a thorough knowledge of a subject as well as being very skillful at working in it ("expert in the martial arts").

Comparing Efficient, Effective, and Proficient

These three words cover some overlapping territory.

Efficient most often describes what is capable of producing desired results without wasting materials, time, or energy. While the word can be applied to both people and things, it is far more commonly applied to things, such as machines, systems, processes, and organizations. The focus of the word is on how little is wasted or lost while the desired results are produced.

Effective typically describes things—such as policies, treatments, arguments, and techniques—that do what they are intended to do. People can also be described as effective when they accomplish what they set out to accomplish, but the word is far more often applied to things.

Proficient typically describes people, and it often is followed by the preposition at. If you are proficient at something, you are very good at it. You are, in fact, so good at doing it that you are unusually efficient when you do it. One can also be proficient in something, such as a language.

Examples of proficient in a Sentence

With this system, a large pool of teachers are asked to identify students they believe are proficient in a given subject; those students are then tested, and their grades stand as the proficiency range. — Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker, 15 Sept. 2003 Dr. Pascual-Leone recruited 15 proficient Braille readers and wired them up so he could measure their somatosensory cortex—the part of the brain that registers and processes the sense of touch. — Sharon Begley, Wall Street Journal, 11 Oct. 2002 Become proficient at lag putting and you may make a few. — Dave Pelz, Golf Magazine, July 1996 He has become very proficient at computer programming. She is proficient in two foreign languages.
Recent Examples on the Web In Geneva City schools, 76% of third graders were proficient, but 28% of eighth graders were. Trisha Powell Crain |, al, 13 Sep. 2022 But the south shore by comparison, especially the tourist beach hub of Waikiki, tends to fall at the other end of the spectrum, where occasional swells might hit five to ten feet, and swimmers and surfers in the water aren’t always proficient. Tasha Zemke, Outside Online, 30 Aug. 2022 That is only a 0.4% increase from the 2020-2021 results which showed 81.2% of third-graders were proficient. Caroline Beck, The Indianapolis Star, 10 Aug. 2022 Already a skilled guitarist, Billotte led the band in a more technically proficient and traditionally structured direction than most of their riot grrrl contemporaries. Annie Fell, SPIN, 1 Sep. 2022 The drops in test scores were roughly four times greater among the students who were the least proficient in both math and reading. Ben Chapman, WSJ, 1 Sep. 2022 Before, in fact, either one has had a chance to discharge his own weapon in what perhaps is one of if not the best instance of technically proficient gunplay ever captured on film. Andy Meek, BGR, 29 Aug. 2022 Equally important, Jones hoped that by sailing for three weeks, through sunshine and wind, choppy water and the occasional rainstorm, the boys would emerge proficient enough to teach younger kids. Joanna Daemmrich, Washington Post, 27 Aug. 2022 Hyman was self-assured and particularly proficient with numbers. Yasmin Rafiei, The New Yorker, 25 Aug. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of proficient

circa 1590, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for proficient

Latin proficient-, proficiens, present participle of proficere to go forward, accomplish, from pro- forward + facere to make — more at pro-, do

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Time Traveler for proficient

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The first known use of proficient was circa 1590

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Last Updated

18 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Proficient.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Sep. 2022.

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More Definitions for proficient


pro·​fi·​cient | \ prə-ˈfi-shənt How to pronounce proficient (audio) \

Kids Definition of proficient

: very good at doing something a proficient reader

Other Words from proficient

proficiently adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on proficient

Nglish: Translation of proficient for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of proficient for Arabic Speakers


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