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I want to say about someone that he is "not forgetful" or probably "easy to remember things, hard to forget". But I feel like it's too mouthful, and English probably has the term for this, but I don't know how to search for things like this. Can you help me what is the term for "not forgetful"? Thanks.

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  • thesaurus.com/browse/forgetful - antonyms
    – mplungjan
    Dec 20, 2017 at 8:37
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    @mplungjan - Interestingly enough, though, I'm not sure how well those antonyms work. I might say, "I'm a forgetful person," but I don't know how likely I'd be to say, "I'm a mindful person" or "I'm an attentive person" – especially if I'm trying to highlight the fact that I'm not forgetful. (In fact, I think it's possible to be mindful and forgetful at the same time.) Moreover, I know for a fact I woudln't say, "I'm a retentive person," and I would recommend all learners avoid that one, too.
    – J.R.
    Dec 20, 2017 at 10:32
  • @J.R. - unless you ARE anal about it ;)
    – mplungjan
    Dec 20, 2017 at 10:43
  • The word or phrase could depend on the kinds of things remembered -- random trivia? license plate in a parking lot? wife's birthday? name of the neighbor's youngest child?
    – TimR
    Dec 20, 2017 at 12:22
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    @Chen - Check out the various nuances of mindful – it means attentive and regardful. So, the two words can be treated as antonyms; for example, a mindful husband will remember his anniversary, whereas a forgetful husband may not. Yet it's quite possible to be mindful and forgetful at the same time. A neighbor might bring you soup when you are sick, e.g., or try to be quiet after 10PM – these are mindful things to do. Yet that same man might be prone to forget where he parked his car or put down his hat, so perhaps he's mindful and forgetful all at once.
    – J.R.
    Dec 21, 2017 at 15:13

4 Answers 4

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The most common ways to say that someone is good at remembering things include:

He has a good memory.

She has an excellent memory.

Adjectives such as "mindful" are rarely good substitutes.

"Mindful" means keeping something in mind, and is almost always followed by a description of the thing:

He is mindful of his obligations. (= He is aware of his obliations.)

"Attentive" means either that someone listens well (for example, in class) or that they pay attention to particular things:

She is attentive to the nuances of what people say.

"Retentive" most often describes memory rather than a person ("she has a retentive memory"), but ODO also gives this example:

She's very retentive of any facts about the culture, especially about the language.

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    I don't know how it is over in the UK, but here in the US, "retentive" might bring the expression "anal retentive" to mind. It's one of those words I think learners should use with caution.
    – J.R.
    Dec 20, 2017 at 10:34
  • Over here in the UK it's most definitely not the best word to use, though the example given is relatively safe. Dec 20, 2017 at 16:05
  • Good memory! Aah, that's the word I'm searching for. Thanks! Dec 21, 2017 at 4:35
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Some common antonyms to forgetful include mindful, retentive, and attentive.

But I find the most colorful way to describe someone who never forgets is to call them an elephant. Why an elephant? Because an old expression goes:

An elephant never forgets.

Though if you decide to call someone an elephant, be prepared to explain this, as without context, someone might think you were calling them fat. ;)

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  • The old expression is apt, but I would never call a person an elephant! (However, I might use the adage in a longer context, such as: "Bob's like an elephant – he never forgets.")
    – J.R.
    Dec 20, 2017 at 10:36
  • Having a memory like an elephant is the common idiom, at least here in Royaume Uni. Dec 20, 2017 at 16:07
  • Yeah, phrase like "he has good memory like an elephant" probably can works. Thanks! Dec 21, 2017 at 4:36
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    @Chen - Use an article, though: he has a good memory like an elephant.
    – J.R.
    Dec 21, 2017 at 12:25
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One way you could say this is that someone has a photographic memory.

However, before you introduce this into your vocabulary, you should know: you'd be using this in a figurative and not literal sense.

Wikipedia says that photographic memory refers to "the ability to recall pages of text or numbers, or similar, in great detail" and also mentions that "true photographic memory has never been demonstrated to exist."

So, I might say, "Linda has a photographic memory," but I'd most likely not be referring to the clinical phenomenon; rather, I'd mean that Linda is not forgetful but good at remembering things.

One way writers might distinguish between the two is to use near or almost. Collins has an example usage from the Sunday Times which reads:

I was to discover that he had an almost photographic memory.

I've seen other instances where the more figurative use of this term is employed with a dash of hyperbole, such as when Bruce Benderson wrote in his autobiographical work:

If I brought up this episode, she could recall every syllable of it. My mother has a photographic memory.

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  • I've heard about photographic memory. I think it's a too strong quality to for a description in this case, but I'll keep that in mind! Thanks. Dec 21, 2017 at 4:37
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As a matter of fact, the adjective "memorious" sounds pleasant for a person having a good memory, but, unfortunately, it is too obsolete to be used in modern English.

The phrases that are very common and idiomatic are "a good memory" and "a photographic memory". The former is more common than the latter.

He has a good memory.

He has a photographic memory.

You can also say "He has an amazing memory".

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  • Oh I love the word "memorious"! This is the first time I heard about it. Too bad it's obsolete. I'll go with the "amazing memory". Thanks! Dec 21, 2017 at 4:38

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