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

Definition of proficient

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

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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

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web According to the school’s website, upon completion of the ninth grade, students will be proficient in at least one foreign language and will have the ability to think critically and communicate across cultures. al, "Historic redo: More than 180 years after opening, a new chapter for Alabama’s first public schoolhouse," 14 Jan. 2020 Adults with limited English proficiency earn as much as 40% less than their peers who are proficient in English. Katie Nielson, Quartz, "The US has a skills gap problem—and it’s ignoring its most obvious solution," 10 Jan. 2020 Today just 16 percent of high schoolers read at grade level and 11 percent of third- through eighth-graders are proficient in math. Kevin Mooney, National Review, "In Pennsylvania, Democrats Fight a GOP Bill to Expand School Choice," 17 Dec. 2019 Overall, students in innovation schools were less likely to be proficient in math, while the difference between charter and traditional schools isn’t statistically significant, said Lisa Berdie, vice president of policy and research at A+ Colorado. Meg Wingerter, The Denver Post, "Denver’s charter and traditional schools producing similar test results in recent years," 2 Dec. 2019 Everything from engineers to lawyers to former law enforcement to former military to folks that were proficient in the cyber world. CBS News, "Transcript: Carl Ghattas talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"," 13 Nov. 2019 About 34% of eighth-graders were proficient in reading this year, a drop from 36% in 2017 and only a tiny bit better than 32% in 2009. Erin Richards, USA TODAY, "Despite Common Core and more testing, reading and math scores haven't budged in a decade," 30 Oct. 2019 Maybe Ndombele and Lo Celso can provide enough defensive cover while being proficient in attack., "Tottenham's Best Midfield - What Options Does Mauricio Pochettino Have?," 23 Sep. 2019 Overall, well fewer than half of all students in public and voucher schools are proficient in math and reading, and Wisconsin continues to see some of the largest black-white achievement gaps in the country. Jordyn Noennig, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Education Secretary Betsy DeVos touts school choice during visit to Milwaukee voucher school," 16 Sep. 2019

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.

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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

Time Traveler

The first known use of proficient was circa 1590

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Statistics for proficient

Last Updated

17 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Proficient.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 26 January 2020.

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More Definitions for proficient


How to pronounce proficient (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of proficient

: good at doing something


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

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Comments on proficient

What made you want to look up proficient? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to express in a more acceptable way

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