pro·​fi·​cient prə-ˈfi-shənt How to pronounce proficient (audio)
: able to do something to a higher than average standard : skilled
proficient in English/math
proficient with computers
reads at a proficient level
a team of technically proficient players
The audition process is intense. Rockettes must be proficient in ballet, tap, and jazz.Melinda Farrell
proficient noun
plural proficients
proficiently adverb

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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").

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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.

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

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 Just 25 of 279 third graders tested proficient or higher last spring on the state reading M-STEP, while the majority, 218 third graders, scored not proficient on the test. Lily Altavena, Detroit Free Press, 22 Apr. 2024 Ministry is not nearly as proficient as Chad Stahelski’s John Wick 4 or Matthias Schweighöfer’s Army of Thieves, but the pell-mell combat scenes are consistently cartoonish. Armond White, National Review, 19 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for proficient 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'proficient.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

circa 1593, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of proficient was circa 1593


Dictionary Entries Near proficient

Cite this Entry

“Proficient.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


pro·​fi·​cient prə-ˈfish-ənt How to pronounce proficient (audio)
: very good at doing something especially through practice
proficiently adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on proficient

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