adjectives: competent/incompetent


Today I’d like to write about the adjective “competent” and its opposite “incompetent”. These words are used to describe a person’s ability to do their job. If a person is able to do their job well, we say they are competent. On the other hand, if a person cannot do their job well and are constantly making mistakes, we say they are incompetent. For example:

Nathan is a very competent engineer, so I think we should ask him to lead this project.

A: Who’s the most competent person in your department?

B: I would say it’s Justin. He’s extremely competent at his job.

Paul is very competent when it comes to computer programming, but he’s not so competent when it comes to organizing the schedule.

Our company has a new president who’s completely incompetent. His bad decisions have cost our company a lot of money.

Jackie was fired yesterday because she was completely incompetent at her job.

I do all the cooking at my house because my wife is totally incompetent in the kitchen.

It’s important to note that we cannot use the word “competent” about jobs that are more artistic in nature because the word sounds very technical. Therefore, we would NOT say, “She’s a very competent artist.” Instead, we would choose a word with more emotion in it. For example, “She’s a wonderful artist.” or “She’s an amazing artist”. If we used the word “competent” in that situation, it would not sound like a compliment.

Also, if we simply say a person is “competent” at something, it doesn’t sound extremely positive. It’s like saying, “He has the required skills to do the job.” If we want it to sound more positive, we put words like “very”, “totally”, “completely” or “extremely” in front of “competent”.  Then it will sound much more positive.

Finally, please be careful not to use the word “competent” directly to another person. If we say “You are very competent at your job.”, it doesn’t sound very good because it’s very technical and there’s no emotion in the statement. Therefore, we always use it when talking about other people who are not there at the moment.



  1. Kayoko Said:

    Hi Mike,
    I took your English class”Beat-8″ today.
    I enjoyed it so much and I was motivated to learn English more.
    I have a couple of questions about today’s topic “competent”.
    Can I use “efficient” instead of “competent” ?
    What’s the difference between these two words?

    • Hi Kayoko.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my class tonight! It was great to meet you!

      Your question is a good one. Basically “competent” means that someone has the skills or ability to do their job in general, but “efficient” means someone can do their job quickly. I wrote another blog entry about “efficient” on April 1, 2010. You can check it, and if you have any other questions, please let me know!


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