On this post here, it says:

Another word which comes to my mind is "Knack". It can be used to show how someone has a specific talent. Again as an example - Tim is good with musical instruments, and yet he doesn't have the knack to come up with original tunes like his brother has.

I'm an American, so I use the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It's just convenient.

1 a : a clever trick or stratagem b : a clever way of doing something 2 : a special ready capacity that is hard to analyze or teach 3 archaic : an ingenious device; broadly : TOY, KNICKKNACK synonyms see GIFT

I use the term myself with the for preposition or the of preposition, even though I think the for preposition may be more common.

Little Lucy has a knack for getting into trouble, but she's so cute and friendly that most people never notice.

I wish to know the distinctions among a knack for, a knack to, and a knack of.

  • I've never encountered it with anything but for. Jan 27, 2014 at 0:25
  • @StoneyB: I can't really believe you're not familiar with people having the knack of doing something. According to Google Books that's about 20 times more common than having the knack for doing it. Mind you, I never heard of anyone having the knack to do it. Most of those hits look like accidental collocations. Jan 27, 2014 at 0:32
  • I have never heard 'knack to', and seldom 'knack for' but frequently 'knack of'. I would certainly not use it for writing tunes. That is a talent, not a knack! I would be more inclined to speak of the ability one develops of making a particular key turn in a difficult lock, as a knack. 'Let me do it, I've acquired the knack'. In Britain it is also used sarcastically 'He's got the knack of upsetting everyone he works with'.
    – WS2
    Jan 27, 2014 at 0:44
  • @Anonymous: fwiw, I tend to say "He's got a knack for it", but "He's got the knack of it". For me, the former often implies innate ability, whereas the latter is more likely to mean acquired aptitude. Jan 27, 2014 at 0:44
  • @FumbleFingers AmE/BrE divide? This G-Ngram suggests for took off about when I entered college and passed of about when I left academe. I think, too, my own disciplines tend to use knack as "innate talent" (he has the knack) which works better with for than does what I'm seeing in the of uses: "acquired skill" (he got the knack). Jan 27, 2014 at 0:46

2 Answers 2


This is really interesting!

In British English, knack of appears to be the more common use according to this Google N-Gram. Knack for is used almost exactly half as much currently, but it has only come into use recently --- previously, knack of very clearly dominated the field. However, both expressions combined have fallen in popularity since 1950.

In American English, according to this N-Gram, knack for appears to have been the preferred form since about 1980, and has been surging in popularity ever since, whereas knack of has retreated further into unpopularity, even though it used to be dominant in American English, like in British English.

In both American and British English, the expression knack to has been highly uncommon since the late 1700s and is likely considered a usage error today. It enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the late 1600s.

I strongly suggest you view the N-Grams I linked to above; they really are very illustrative and informative.

  • But if you extend the Ngram backwards, it looks like "knack to" was used in Elizabethan English; A Knack to Know a Knave is a play from 1594. Jan 27, 2014 at 2:53
  • That's true: analysis shows that knack to was at its peak use in the late 1600s, when it was as popular or perhaps even more popular than knack of. However, knack to appears to have fallen out of favor since the mid-1700s.
    – Newb
    Jan 27, 2014 at 3:07
  • @Peter: Let's not forget that we're talking about significantly different usages here, not just some optional choice of preposition. I've already commented on one (possibly, idiosyncratic and/or over-subtle) distinction, but there's no doubt that "There is a knack to it has always been idiomatically standard. No-one ever uses for or of in that construction. Jan 27, 2014 at 3:45

Personally I think the difference is simply this:

1) to have a knack for something (when you use 'a' you use 'for') He has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time.

2) to have the knack of something (when you use 'the' you use 'of') He has the knack of saying the right thing at the right time.

3) There is a knack to this. (speaking about the activity not the person)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.