I am looking for a word or group of words to describe someone who just started doing something, but is already very good at it, or a beginner without faults. For example, it could be used in this sentence: "Although Mary had just started playing Tennis, she had already won 3 tournaments; Some could say she was a ______".

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    Perhaps lucky? – BladorthinTheGrey Jun 14 at 6:36
  • A downplaying actor? – Manoj Kumar Jun 14 at 9:49
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    I'd advise against using "pro" here. Colloquially a "pro" is someone who is very good at something, but technically it is short for "professional" meaning "someone who is paid to do something". As you are asking here for a word that does not mean "someone who is paid to do it" I have removed the word "pro" to make your question clearer. – AndyT Jun 14 at 10:16
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    Perhaps you are thinking of prodigy? "a person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities" and "The 16-year-old tennis prodigy is the youngest player ever to reach the Olympic finals." dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/prodigy – Bread Jun 15 at 1:16
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    @Timothy "a natural" has elided the word "talent" (or similar noun). It's short for "a natural talent" (naturally gifted, natural ability; it implies that things seem to be easy for these people, in a similar vein as how it's naturally easier for dolphins to dive deep and long than for most humans) – sehe Jun 18 at 16:30

11 Answers 11

You can use the word "natural" either as an adjective or as a noun, to describe the person and their skill or the person themself.

natural (adjective)
attributive (of a person) having an innate skill or quality.
‘he was a natural entertainer’

natural (noun) A person having an innate talent for a particular task or activity.
‘she was a natural for television work’
Oxford Living Dictionaries

Another is the word "gifted".

Having exceptional talent or natural ability.
‘a gifted amateur musician’
Oxford Living Dictionaries

If you want another noun describing the person, then "prodigy"

prodigy
often with modifier A young person with exceptional qualities or abilities.
‘a Russian pianist who was a child prodigy in his day’
Oxford Living Dictionary

More often than not prodigy is used with minors or children.

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    You don't need the rest. Natural, noun, filler filler. – stevesliva Jun 14 at 3:04
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    Yes - but if only children can be prodigies, why include "child" in the description? It's most commonly used with children, but because it's more surprising to find a child who can sit down and play a difficult piece of music beautifully the first time than an adult; in the case of the adult, you can choose to assume they had taken lessons at some point, or come up with other similar excuses for their ability. – RDFozz Jun 14 at 15:28
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    Although this info is already present if you really scrutinize the definitions, I would make it clearer that 'prodigy' is a much stronger term than 'natural'. In OP's example sentence, some could say she was a prodigy, but she's definitely a natural - no doubt about it. – SirTechSpec Jun 14 at 16:52
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    @stevesliva I heartily disagree. All of these are excellent options depending on the precise connotations you wish to imply. I agree "natural" seems to fit the example sentence best. – jpmc26 Jun 15 at 5:29
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    Talented beginners might well be gifted prodigies, but only the noun form of "natural" is especially associated with showing early promise (they called that Robert Redford movie about the amazing baseball rookie The Natural rather than The Prodigy or The Gifted Guy for a reason). – 1006a Jun 15 at 14:45

quick learner
"He was a pragmatist and quick learner. He was skilled at picking up ideas from others and making them his own." (Lawrence M. O’Rourke, Row House to White House, 2012, p.3319)

"The quick learner has what is called in ordinary terminology, the power of concentration. All the available cerebral energy seems to participate in ..." (William Henry Pyle - 1921)

"You had no experience as a woman, but you were full of spirit and a quick learner." (Gary Jonas - 2011)

Also, fast learner

Although Mary had just started playing Tennis, she had already won 3 tournaments; she was a real talent.

talent (noun)
(someone who has) a natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught

Source: Cambridge Online

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    This may be a common usage of talent in some places, but it may be worth noting that in American English it is more commonly used to say that someone has a talent at something, rather than being a talent – Kevin Wells Jun 14 at 19:11
  • Talent is rather something one possesses, instead of 'being a talent'. Not usual in BrEnglish. – Tim Jun 18 at 9:47

phenom

[: phenomenon; especially : a person of phenomenal ability or promise][1]

[1]: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phenom

If an adjective would suffice, I would say that she has a knack for tennis:

1 An acquired or natural skill at doing something.

‘he had a knack for communicating’

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    "knack" isn't an adjective, it's a noun. It is just a noun for a thing the person has rather than a noun that that person is (you have a knack, but you are a natural) – Kevin Wells Jun 14 at 19:09
  • That's true. I guess I just meant as long as it's okay that the sentence isn't structured in exactly the same way as the example. – Chase Sandmann Jun 15 at 2:04

Depending on your context, you might call this person a whiz kid:

a young person who is outstandingly skillful or successful at something.

"a computer whiz kid"

In some contexts, the term rising star might be appropriate.

If Mary was dedicated to her tennis career, and it was understood that she was already gifted for a beginner and on the way to success, it could be used here.

From Merriam-Webster:

rising star: a person or thing that is growing quickly in popularity or importance in a particular field

From Cambridge:

rising star: a person who is likely to be successful

However, it wouldn't be an appropriate term for something less important than a career or primary hobby - for example, if someone succeeded in their first cookery class, but wasn't particularly dedicated to cookery, the term wouldn't be appropriate.

Yet another option: wunderkind

Prodigy works. The comments about prodigy only applies to children are not entirely true. BJ Penn was widely referred to as 'the prodigy' and he learned his craft after highschool.

Precocious is another possibility

In dancing we use "advanced Beginner"

protected by Andrew Leach Jun 18 at 17:39

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