A heuristic is a rule or method that helps you solve problems faster than you would if you did all the computing. It sounds fancy, but you might know a heuristic as a "rule of thumb."

Derived from a Greek word that means "to discover," heuristic describes a rule or a method that comes from experience and helps you think through things, like the process of elimination, or the process of trial and error. You can think of a heuristic as a shortcut. Besides finding it in philosophy books, if you are interested in computing, you'll find references to heuristic programming. You can use it as a noun or as an adjective.

Definitions of heuristic
  1. noun
    a commonsense rule (or set of rules) intended to increase the probability of solving some problem
    synonyms: heuristic program, heuristic rule
    see moresee less
    lateral thinking
    a heuristic for solving problems; you try to look at the problem from many angles instead of tackling it head-on
    type of:
    formula, rule
    (mathematics) a standard procedure for solving a class of mathematical problems
  2. adjective
    of or relating to or using a general formulation that serves to guide investigation
    relating to solving problems by experience rather than theory
    see moresee less
    of or relating to or having the characteristics of an algorithm
    of or relating to a recursion
    show more antonyms...
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by Vocabulary.com’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 700+
  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Time: 1 hour / week