Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language Learners Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of other languages learning English. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When you master something, you master in that or at that?

He's a master in Java Programming

Vs.

He's a master at Java Programming

Note: Java programming is just an example and not something to explore or dig in further. I'm concerned with when you master something, you master at or in that?

share|improve this question
1  
I think it should be either "He is a master ..." or "He has mastered ..." As for the preposition, my gut feeling says at is better. –  Damkerng T. Apr 19 at 6:57
    
@DamkerngT. though I found examples (from authentic sources) without article, I must agree that putting it makes it better. Edited. Thanks. –  Maulik V Apr 19 at 7:05

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You forgot of:

He's a master of Java Programming.

That's the preposition used in the famous idiom Jack of all trades, master of none. It also seems to be the preposition of choice according the Ngram:

enter image description here

As to your note:

Java programming is just an example and not something to explore or dig in further. I'm concerned with when you master something, you master at or in that?

I believe there are some things that one can master, and one preposition will sound more natural than another. For example:

James is a master in deceit.
Dave is a master at forgery.

If – for some reason – a writer did not want to use of, then at seems to work a little better than in when referring to dextrous skills where you make something tangible (such as forgery, woodcarving, or quiltmaking), but in seems to work a little better than at for something more abstract (such as deceit, inspiration, or strategizing). There's no fixed rule about such matters, though, and prepositions tend to be very flexible in usage.

What would work best with "programming"? Probably of.

share|improve this answer
    
Oh, I completely overlooked it! Noteworthy is after of there's at. +1 for this wonderful answer :) –  Maulik V Apr 19 at 9:01
    
What you think of this? You master in doing something and you master at something? This is my thinking looking at user3169's answer. –  Maulik V Apr 19 at 9:04
    
Or you simply master something. He is a master Java programmer; she is a master safecracker: no preposition required. –  J.R. Apr 19 at 11:28

I think it depends on what the something is. In the case of skills or occupations:

He's a master in Java Programming

He's a master in electrical engineering.

On the other hand, in the case of actions or activities:

He's a master at flying kites.

He's a master at racing cars.

Sorry I can't give a technical reason though.

share|improve this answer
    
Aw, this reminds me this - he's a master in/at marketing - a skill as well as action :( now at or in? Thanks for the input though. –  Maulik V Apr 19 at 7:23
    
"He's a master in marketing" if you are referring to his occupation or training. "He's a master at marketing" if he goes out and actually does some "marketing". Such as "He's a master at selling books." –  user3169 Apr 19 at 7:51
    
Yes, this sounds logical, I agree to this answer. For better clarification, I asked J.R. this as well. You master in doing something but you master at something this is what we mean, don't we? –  Maulik V Apr 19 at 9:07

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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