What is the word that describes someone who displays the ability to think of alternative ways of dealing with a situation, especially a situation that calls for it and then acts upon it? In my native language, it is a relatively common word. As I thought of it, the idiom think on your feet, and the word nimble sprang to mind. It is the closest expressions I could think of, although it is similar, it does not contain the exact meaning of that word.

Basically it's an adjective that describes someone who's able to quickly think of alternatives in a situation, especially in a situation that calls for it. He is able to accommodate to new situations as opposed to someone who, if faced with a similar situation, will become stuck, not knowing what to do and unable to think of any alternatives.

For example, If someone who's shopping for ingredients for the desired dinner he's going to prepare for his party guests discovered that one of the ingredients for a dish he's going to prepare is not sold in any of his local grocery stores, he buys another similar ingredient as a substitute. He is (that word), because he has the ability to think of alternative ways in dealing with the situation where as someone who is not (that word) is rather dull and when faced with such situations, will propably decides not to prepare that dish and may also get frustrated/upset over the matter.

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    Also presence of mind, if you're also looking for a phrase. Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 9:11

9 Answers 9


I would think of flexible or adaptable as well.


Consider imaginative (“tending to be fanciful or inventive”), resourceful (“Capable or clever; able to put available resources to efficient or ingenious use; using materials at hand wisely or efficiently” (emphasis added)), plucky (“Having or showing pluck, courage or spirit in trying circumstances”), and creative (“Tending to create things, or having the ability to create; Original, expressive and imaginative”).

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    +1 for imaginative, resourceful and creative; less sure about plucky.
    – JAM
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 3:03
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    Resourceful is my favorite (especially given the "missing ingredient" example in the OP) Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 3:38

In addition to jwpat7's one-word solutions, there's the phrase "able to think outside the box", which combines imaginative and creative. Distant relatives in this context are intelligent and quick witted.


All good responses so far! I'd also add the more fanciful "fleet-footed" and related, "(mental) agility"


Clever is probably the best single word choice for combining aspects of mental quickness and resourcefulness.

  • I'd agree that clever is a worthy candidate, but I'm not sure I'd agree that it's "probably the best single word choice." (I'd say it's on par with ingenious and creative.) Moreover, in some contexts, clever can have negative connotations.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 4:32
  • Those particular negative connotations are not relevant to this question. I thought you were going to dredge up some reference to easily trained animals or the like. When one says a person is clever, it's a compliment, and can at worst be taken as faint praise when contrasted with utter brilliance. "Ingenious" and "creative" don't connote nimbleness at all, nor resourcefulness as well in the sense of using whatever's available to achieve a workable solution.
    – Iucounu
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 5:27

The word that fully fits your sentences would be an adjective for of the word, improvise, however I do not know if such a word exists. I think it would suffice to say that the shopper was able to improvise.


Your suggestion of "nimble" might not now have the precise shade of meaning that you want, but that may be changing.

It is increasingly being applied to organisations and businesses to indicate that they corporately possess the characteristics you have described.

It cannot be too long before a business reconstruction consultant offers the aphorism that "Nimble enterprises need nimble employees."


Enterprising, an expression borrowed from the world of business which is also used to describe a dynamic and ingenious person who makes the most of whatever situation they find themselves in.

Enterprising having or showing the ability or desire to do new and difficult things; marked by an independent energetic spirit and by readiness to act

From TFD: marked by imagination, initiative, and readiness to undertake new projects


"Resourceful" seems to suit your needs; it reflects adaptability and initiative.

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