Merriam-Webster says in its entry for initiate that this word can also be an adjective:

  1. a : initiated or properly admitted (as to membership or an office)
    b : instructed in some secret knowledge
  2. obsolete : relating to an initiate

However, this sense means introductory or preliminary, as in just getting started. But that is not the sense that I am looking for here. I don’t want an adjective derived from the verb initiate but rather one derived from the noun initiative.

I would like to know the correctly derived adjective to fit this blank:

  • This guy shows great initiative.
  • This guy is ______.

I am not interested in meanings derived from the verb to initiate, and to be frank I was quite surprised to find out those other senses.

My question instead seeks an adjective whose meaning relates to what I believe to be today’s dominant sense of the noun initiative: the one used to represent a positive quality in people who come up with their own solutions, need not be told exactly what to do, etc. This is the sense that Merriam-Webster gives as “energy or aptitude displayed in initiation of action”.

In other words, I need something for this blank below:

  • People who come up with their own solutions and need not be told exactly show great initiative.
  • Such people are ________ people.

3 Answers 3


Somewhat to my chagrin, I think I'd go with proactive.

The adjective usage of initiative that you're finding documented would have to be spoken as "inish-ee-aytiv" (as opposed to the noun "inish-uh-tiv") in order to be understood, it would sound distractingly odd, and your chances of getting your meaning across still aren't too hot. In written communication it would be a total loss.

In some circumstances you could go with a fairly close mapping to initiatory, but that would not typically be understood properly either.


The OED also records initiative as an adjective, but I’d be surprised to find it used as such today. In your example, I think you’d have to use a different word altogether, such as enterprising.


Someone with ( or who takes ) initiative can be described as motivated or ambitious. Motivated is the less intense of the two, meaning that the person wants to get things done, while ambition ( a more intense synonym of initiative ) can reach the point where it is "unhealthy"; for instance, a business partnership could be harmed by one of the partners being so ambitious that they cut the other out of the business partly or even entirely.

When someone is so ambitious that they are willing to sabotage relationships, we can describe them as cutthroat. This adjective can also be applied to situations, eg. "the computer hardware business is cutthroat" ).

  • 1
    To make this answer more useful to readers who may not be familiar with the terms you suggest, please consider citing appropriate dictionary definitions in support of your suggestions. Adding such definitions would also make your answer more self-contained, rather than requiring readers to work out for themselves why the answer may be suitable.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 0:16
  • +1 for the additional effort. Thanks, bernz. Your comments are interesting and seem intuitively correct; I should warn you, though, that many participants at this site feel strongly that support for an answer should come, in part, from third-party reference works. For future answers, it's something to keep in mind—although I see that you have been a participant here yourself for some time and may have developed a style that you're happy with.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 2:44

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