I understand the meaning, and to be sure I searched its definition: something that requires or involves little or no mental effort. This noun literally can have another meaning logically to describe a person, it makes sense to me. My question is, is it the right usage to use no-brainer to describe someone who don't use their brain to think at all?

  • 5
    An appropriate term for what you are wanting to describe might be 'empty-headed' Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 12:04
  • 2
    This isn't the question you asked, which has been ably answered multiple times below, but some terms which you could use for a person who is not using the brain are halfwit, dimwit, ignoramus, dunce, dunderhead, numskull, shit-for-brains, ... (I can't believe how easily that list came to me).
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 12:15
  • 2
    If I heard you say that "Person X is a no-brainer" I would first think that you had to select a person to fill a position and Person X was far and away the best person for that role
    – Stephen S
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 15:26
  • 1
    @DaveMongoose aren't you amazed at English language that empty-headed and no-brainer literally mean the same thing but you use them so differently.
    – drerD
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 19:16
  • @drerD I think you have similar cases in other languages as well, but English certainly has a lot of them! Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 12:12

5 Answers 5



The OED describes "no-brainer" as the other answers say:

  1. Something that requires or involves little mental effort or intelligence to perform or understand; esp. an easily made decision

But it also includes the definition you mention:

  1. A foolish or unintelligent person or action.

They quote the sentence: "If a no-brainer wants to talk on the radio—even if the message makes no sense whatsoever—he or she can do it."


It's worth noting that as a native English speaker, I wasn't familiar with this definition (and neither it seems, were the other answerers), so while it does exist, I would advise against using it unless you hear it often in your region.


No. A "no-brainer" is a decision that is so obvious, you don't need to use your brain to decide. However, it's never applied to people, but rather to the decision itself.

  • 3
    Although it's possible (but admittedly rare) that you might use metonymy to refer to a decision involving a person as that person. E.g.: "We should try to predict which of these students are likely to pass this class." "Well, Sally's a no-brainer." This would mean that Sally is either so bad or so good at the subject that it's obvious ahead of time whether or not she's likely to pass. Trying to guess whether she'll pass or not is very easy, i.e. a no-brainer. Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 16:15

You could, and in context people will understand the intended meaning, but at the same time people will be aware that you are using the term wrong. A "no-brainer" already has a different definition: it refers to a problem, a task, or a decision.

You can use your meaning in the context of sarcasm, jokes, or if you're intentionally trying to show unfamiliarity with the language.


'NO' is the answer from numerous examples in the site 'Context. Reverso. Net': 'Cremation versus burial is such a NO-BRAINER when l think about it'. 'Well... the tires are a NO-BRAINER'. etc.

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary:  no-brainer  : something that requires a minimum of thought.

According to English Language Learners Dictionary: no-brainer : a decision or choice that is very easy to make and requires very little thought.


Is it the right usage to use no-brainer to describe someone who doesn't use their brain to think at all?

Exactly as others have said. The expression does not refer to a person. To further illustrate here are a couple of examples of the correct usage.

"Should I go to the cinema with my friends or with Julia?"

"That's a no-brainer. Definitely go with Julia - she's gorgeous."

"What is 2+2?"

"That's a no-brainer. I don't even have to think about it. The answer is 4."

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.