What is an English adjective to describe the following skill: "able to learn new things quickly"?

For example:

Billy is very _________, as he learns new skills more quickly than an average person.

  • "able to learn new things quickly" == "learns quickly"
    – Bob Stein
    Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 12:19
  • "Quick study" is probably the best short phrase for this.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 12:49
  • "fast learner" may help.
    – Zoe Lee
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 0:31

18 Answers 18


Fast learner or quick learner

  • 4
    +1 They're not the snappy single word that I suspect the OP wants, but they are IMHO the most accurate phrase. An other single word is a compromise IMHO.
    – CJM
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 10:39
  • "Quick study" would refer to a person who readily acquires both skills and knowledge, but with a clear inclusion of becoming knowledgeable as well as skillful. Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 22:01

I would say clever, quick-witted or, informally, smart:

clever (adjective)
quick to understand, learn, and devise or apply ideas; intelligent.

quick-witted (adjective)
showing or characterized by an ability to think or respond quickly or effectively.

  • 1
    Why informally? That's what smart means.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 22:03
  • 1
    @Kevin mostly because this meaning of smart is marked as informal in the New Oxford American Dictionary
    – F'x
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 9:04
  • 2
    I think only in certain contexts would those words be acceptable for "able to learn new things quickly". For example, someone that was quickly able to learn how to garden or take care of the elderly wouldn't usually be called "clever" but a "fast learner". Commented Aug 18, 2012 at 23:17

here are some words that came to mind - sagacious,

Exhibiting or marked by keen intellectual discernment, especially of human motives and actions; having or proceeding from penetration into practical affairs in general; having keen practical sense; acute in discernment or penetration; discerning and judicious; shrewd: as, a sagacious mind.

there's astute,

Quick at seeing how to gain advantage, especially for oneself; shrewd; critically discerning.

and of course, polymathic

Pertaining to polymathy; acquainted with many branches of learning.

and autodidactic :)

Relating to or having the characteristics of an autodidact; self-taught.


Sponge - a person or thing that absorbs something freely: His mind is a sponge gathering historical data.

  • Or, perhaps dependent on delivery and context, sponge could mean a complete absence of anything resembling a centre of thought, in reference to the animal!
    – Sam
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 16:39
  • 1
    @Sam, I have just the therapy for you.
    – Bob Stein
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 17:13

I have often heard sharp used in this context.

mentally acute; clever; astute

Synonym discussion:

intelligent, quick have varying implications. Sharp suggests an acute, sensitive, alert, penetrating quality: a sharp mind. Keen implies observant, incisive, and vigorous: a keen intellect. Intelligent means not only acute, alert, and active, but also able to reason and understand: an intelligent reader. Quick suggests lively and rapid comprehension, prompt response to instruction, and the like: quick at figures.


I think idioms like 'quick study', 'quick on the uptake' or 'ready grasp' are more apt. haven't found any one word expression befitting.


The idiom "quick on the uptake" would apply here.

Defintion: quick to understand or learn something.

Example: Just because I'm not quick on the uptake, it doesn't mean I'm stupid. Mary understands jokes before anyone else because she's so quick on the uptake.


You can also say,

"He/she is very apt" which means able and also quick adaption.

For example, "He is very apt at his new job." New Job (Learning new things) based of SOME experience, school, education etc.

  • 2
    +1: She is an apt pupil: this usage of apt literally means "quick to lean". This the correct answer IMHO. Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 13:42

This is only borderline English, I would say, since it's such an obscure word, but it's one of my favorites:

TACHYDIDACTIC - Being taught rapidly or teaching quickly

No one will know it, but sometimes that's the fun of a word.

  • 1
    Goes well with "autodidactic polymath".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 12:51

how about Aptitude

internet definition: readiness or quickness in learning;

  • What is the adjective form of this word? I almost wrote "apt" but I'm not sure that's right.
    – jhocking
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 18:01
  • 1
    I believe "apt" would be correct. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 22:34
  • Yes, but you can't just call someone "apt". It has to attach to a role noun, as in, "She's an apt pupil." Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 22:39

I've most often used the word "adept" (not adapt) in your situation, although the book definition doesn't fit precisely, common usage (at least around here) seems to fit what you're looking for.

1. very proficient in something requiring skill or manual dexterity
2. skillful; expert


I can't really think of a single word. I mean, "adaptable" is close, and most synonyms of "smart" could fit, but none have quite that specific meaning. Other related words are "polymath" and "autodidact" but again they don't have quite that meaning.

For short phrases there's "fast learner" and "quick study"

  • 1
    Autodidact should be someone who learns by himself, regardless of the speed, no?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 9:26
  • Yes, that's why I said not quite that meaning. Being able to pick things up on your own implies being able to learn easily, but it's not exact. Similarly, polymath means you've mastered multiple disciplines; again that implies being able to learn easily but it's not necessarily quickly.
    – jhocking
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 9:28
  • I didn't know polymath...
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 9:31

Receptive is the English term used to describe the ability of learning or apprehending new things quickly. http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/receptive

However, according to the Oxford dictionary receptive alludes to the willingness rather than the ability to accept new ideas. http://live.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/receptive?region=us


I'm going to go for:

Assimilator : (noun)

someone (especially a child) who learns (as from a teacher) or takes up knowledge or beliefs [syn: learner, scholar]


Apprehensive can mean 'quick of apprehension', and would seem to be exactly what you're looking for. Unfortunately, the 'fearful' sense is so common that your readers are likely to be confused. You could try astute or acute.


You could also use the words adaptable or flexible.

  • 1
    I'd argue that those words stress an ability to change and learn new things, but have no emphasis on speed. Slow learners can also be adaptable.
    – CJM
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 10:37
  • 2
    While "adapt" and "learn" don't quite mean the same thing, they are close and adaptable does include adapting quickly. "Slow to adapt" is pretty much the opposite of adaptable.
    – jhocking
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 11:22

How about tachymath?



Or oxymath?



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Most people that I know would use the word 'bright' in the sense of being quick-witted or clever.

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