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Consider the definition of learned (as an adjective) as provided by the Cambridge Dictionary:

A learned person has studied for a long time and has a lot of knowledge

I am interested in the case that is followed by a preposition. For example:

He is learned in/on/about mathematics

Which preposition should be used after the adjective learned as in the above example?

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  • 1
    You mean preposition right?
    – DW256
    May 8 '20 at 8:56
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    A google books search suggests “learned in” is the more common collocaction. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user 66974
    May 8 '20 at 9:02
  • I don't think you can add any kind of qualifier in the first place. It seams to me that learned, as an adjective, is an all or nothing description. He is learned. [Period.] He (has knowledge of / has studied) mathematics. It's the same type of absolute adjective as he is tall. You can't add a modifier after tall, only before. Using it as a verb, however, you can say that he has learned mathematics, but there would be no preposition involved. You could use it's noun form. He has learning in mathematics. May 8 '20 at 9:18
  • @DW256 I used 'postposition' because in my mind it is after 'learned'. But I suppose it is a 'preposition' before the subject that one is learned in. Please correct it if you are more learned than me as to whether it should be preposition or postposition.
    – egg
    May 8 '20 at 9:25
  • @egg From The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar: In some languages (e.g. Japanese) the kinds of meaning and function that prepositions have in English are exhibited by words that follow their complements, and these are appropriately called postpositions (e.g. the equivalent of the bath in, rather than in the bath). Such a class of words does not exist in English, though some words, e.g. ago (as in a month ago), notwithstanding (as in his efforts notwithstanding), and *enclitics (-n’t, -’s) are sometimes so described.
    – DW256
    May 8 '20 at 9:27
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The adjective learned takes a prepositional phrase complement headed by in or about. There seems to be a difference in usage: in is used with a field of study whereas about is used with things more concrete.

By the Senior year he had already become learned in Logic, and a master of the devices of Oratory

The mind becomes learned in many things having once consented to be ignorant of some

As Jennifer becomes learned about her adopted city

It is also perpetuated to ensure that mankind never becomes learned about the true nature, cause and cure of disease.

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  • Thanks for your answer. I am hoping for a more complete answer. For instance in the comments Jason Bassford has written that use of prepositions after learned is non-standard in the first place. Could you address whether prepositions should be used at all with 'learned'?
    – egg
    May 8 '20 at 9:35
  • I'm surprised at the "non-standard" remark. In British and American English "learned in" is rather old-fashioned. OED: Having profound knowledge gained by study, esp. in language or some department of literary or historical science. erudite... Constructed with in, // 1712 Remarks & Coll. He was learned in the British tongue. 1610 Brit. Sundry ceremonies, which I leave to the learned in Christian antiquities. // 2001 Epic India: a Brahmin who was learned in one Veda only was usually fair and one who was learned in three Vedas was dark in complexion .
    – Greybeard
    May 8 '20 at 9:45
  • @egg I don't have an authoritative source for the use of learned with about. However, google books turns up ample results from different time periods, so it seems to be an established use. From a letter written by T.E. Lawrence: I become learned about boats, and meanwhile, there are no books, no music, no easements.
    – DW256
    May 8 '20 at 9:53

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