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“At” vs. “in” before verb

"He is good in painting" or "He is good at painting" — which one is correct?


There's only one major case that leaps to mind where "good in" is idiomatically correct:

He is good in bed.

This can be generalized somewhat to "he is good in (location where certain stereotypical activities are performed)", like saying "he is good in the field" to mean he is good at doing the tasks that need to be done in the field.

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    Good - I thought of "good in bed", but hadn't noticed it was extensible. But I concur that its complement must be a place, not an activity.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 22 '10 at 17:55
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    @Hellion: Thanks for this answer! And yes, someone can be good in a particular field of study or endeavor. Examples: He's good in defense; She's good in acrobatics; They're good in the classroom (meaning well-behaved); He's amazingly good in [the subject of] analysis.
    – Jimi Oke
    Dec 22 '10 at 17:56
  • @Jimi Oke, all of those except the classroom one (which is a location, hence subject to the exception noted by @Hellion) would sound more idiomatic using "at" instead of "in".
    – Marthaª
    Dec 22 '10 at 21:39
  • @Martha: In the first example, I used "defense" in a soccer sense. At won't sound more idiomatic in such a case and defense is really a location/position on the field. In many cases having to do with ranking or assessment, using good in sounds idiomatic. Consider: "She's the top student in biology, but in French, she is not so good." Usually, class is implied when this form is used, so one can still think of it as a location. I concede that maybe my other examples were not idiomatic. Other examples would be "good in general" and "good in several respects/that regard".
    – Jimi Oke
    Dec 22 '10 at 21:54
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    @Jimi Oke, @Hellion: In the homeland of "soccer" we would definitely say "he's good in defence" (and spell it like that too :-)
    – psmears
    Jan 14 '11 at 22:14

If you must choose one of them:

He is good at painting

However, you might also prefer:

He paints well.

  • Even better: "He paints (x) well." where (x) is whatever he's painting (pictures, walls, etc.)
    – user730
    Dec 22 '10 at 16:26
  • I agree that "he paints well" is better word choice.
    – Jeff
    Dec 22 '10 at 19:07

In general:

He is good in [location]


He is good at [activity]


He is good at painting.

is correct.

He is good in painting.

is definitely incorrect — I’ve heard this form from non-native speakers, but never I think from native speakers — but its meaning is still clear; it doesn’t risk confusion.

This goes equally for any verb or activity: she is good at climbing, he is terrible at football, I am not very good at stand-up comedy are standard, and would be incorrect with in. I can’t think of any idiomatic exceptions.


I recently found it "The key to you for a successful class will depend in most part by how good you are in listening, questioning, note taking and studying and most important, test taking.

Read more: http://www.free-ebooks.net/ebook/An-Instructor-s-View-on-Student-Success/html#ixzz1ghTDV9XS

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    This author actually gets all of his prepositions wrong. Correct English: "Your key to a successful class will depend for the most part on how good you are at listening, questioning, note taking, studying and, most importantly, test taking. Dec 16 '11 at 13:12

Grammar rules:

  • good at + subject/topic

    • She's good at Chemistry.
    • He's good at Listening.
  • good in + skill

    She's good in listening.

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