I've read another post about excel at or excel in. But it was too general.

What if the object is a language? When we say "in English" or "in German" it means written or spoken in the mentioned language. But what about "excelling" at/in that language? It feels wrong to say "at", and the same with "in".

Native speakers, please help! Which one sounds or feels natural to you?

excel at English
excel in English

  • 1
    You excel at a skill, but English is a language more than a set skill: You excel in English. Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 19:29
  • He excels at speaking English. She excels at playing the piano. To excel AT something. You can't excel at English [that would mean a place!!!], only at English speaking, writing in English. Etc. You excel at [doing something/verb].
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 19:32
  • 1
    This seems dupey. Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 19:36
  • True - search for "excel at" "excel in" for multiple questions of this form. Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 19:42

1 Answer 1


In my experience as a reader / writer, both read almost interchangeably in many cases. If I have any preference at all, it would be this: you excel at a task; you excel in a domain, and occasionally a task.


  • I excel at swimming.
  • I excel at peeling garlic cloves.
  • I excel in biology.
  • I excel in intellectual property law.

Bad examples:

  • "I excel at biology" looks slightly-to-moderately odd, as if "biology" were a task. We don't biologize anything. :-)
  • "I excel in swimming" looks slightly odd, depending on whether I intend "swimming" to refer to the task ("at" would be more appropriate) or the general subject ("in" would be more appropriate).
  • "I excel in peeling garlic cloves" looks definitely odd, since peeling garlic cloves is virtually always intended to denote a task.

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