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Which prepositions can be used with "competence"?

Specificially, which of the following examples are valid/legal:

  • I have competence on computers
  • I have competence with computers
  • I have competence as a programmer
  • Our company has competence in programming
  • Our company has competence on programming
  • Our company has competence with programming and cooking
  • Our company has competence within the fields of programming and cooking
  • Our company has several employees with competence with programming
  • Our company has several employees with programming competence
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Seriously, no one is going to say any of your examples are illegal! – Daniel Aug 4 '11 at 11:22
I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say many of OP's examples are actually "illegal", but they're mostly pretty "ugly" to my ear. As this NGram shows, any preposition other than "in" is very uncommon. – FumbleFingers Aug 4 '11 at 16:37
When I first had to use the word 'competence' in a sentence the preposition "over" suddenly came to mind. Has anybody considered it? – user17284 Jan 21 '12 at 11:48
Is it your argument that the preposition depends on the word 'competence' and not on the word that follows the preposition? – Kris Jan 21 '12 at 12:58
up vote 1 down vote accepted

I think "with" is the correct preposition in this case:

I have competence with computers/Our company has competence with programming and cooking.

However, I would like to add that "competence" is not usually used in this case, but rather "competent".


I am competent with computers

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And be careful: "competent with" is descriptive; "competent at " is disparaging, implying bare adequacy and no more: "Sure, he's competent at math, but he's no Einstein." – Malvolio Aug 4 '11 at 12:38
I disagree with "with". So does NGram, by a factor of 10:1 in favour of "in". – FumbleFingers Aug 4 '11 at 16:31
I would recommend: I have competence with computers, but I have competence in programming. I have competence with food, but I have competence in cooking. See my answer. – Peter Shor Aug 4 '11 at 17:27

I'm going to partially agree with both answers. If you are talking about an abstract field of study or occupation (physics, computing, auto mechanics, and so on), you are competent in it.

I am competent in computing.

If you are talking about physical objects, you are competent with them:

I am competent with computers.

Searching Google books for competent with, I find

"competent with food, handwriting, and knowledge of bookkeeping," "competent with peers," "competent with the predicting strategy," "competent with people."

Searching Google books for competent in, I find

"competent in research," "competent in traditions of culture A," "competent in the practice of homeopathy," "competent in the domestic arena."

Most hits for competent in and competent with don't seem to fall in the scope of the OPs question, so just counting Google hits doesn't really tell you anything.

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'In' seems to me the right preposition. Since one is competent 'in' something, the person would have competence 'in' that thing as well.

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