She is amazing ---------- painting.

What's the difference between amazing at and amazing in?

What would be used, at or in? And also tell me what is the grammatical role of painting in the sentence.

  • Referring to your comment about the grammatical role of painting: at and in are both prepositions: they require a noun. Words derived from verbs and ending in -ing are either participles (which act like adjectives) or gerunds (which act like nouns). In this case a noun is required, so you know that it's a gerund. Many activities are described by gerunds: riding, skiing, swimming, etc. – JavaLatte Oct 16 '16 at 18:29

I feel like amazing at/in will (more or less) follow the same pattern as good at/in. This is likely because the two words reflect something positive about the subject.

In and at are sometimes interchangeable. In this case, I would use at:

  1. She is good at painting. → She is amazing at painting*.

According to this post, good at is generally used with activities. It provides other examples:

  1. He’s good at football.
  2. She’s good at product design.
  3. Her mother is good at Trivial Pursuit.
  4. When Fatima was only six, she was good at drawing.

In each case, you can swap good with amazing and each case remains idiomatic.

The post also makes a note about academics. It says

When it comes to school subjects, both “good at” and “good in” are used.

For example,

  1. Max is good at math.
  2. Max is good in math.

Of course, these are general guidelines. There are exceptions.

  1. She's good in bed

This means she's good at sex. You cannot replace in with at in 8 because bed is not an activity.

This can sometimes be extended to other places where activities are done (as this post points out), for example

  1. He's good in the kitchen. (He's good at cooking; He cooks well.)

You can swap good with amazing in the previous examples and they should sound fine. Other positive descriptions, like skillful, should work too. Again, this is a rough guideline and there probably more exceptions.

*You can rewrite this as "She is an amazing painter." I prefer this over the original, although the original is ok.

| improve this answer | |
  • Your "exceptions" both refer to physical places: you would also say "he is in the kitchen" and not "at the kitchen". The trick here is that in examples 1 - 5, you directly mention the activity they are good at. In examples 8 and 9, you don't mean literally that he is a good person in the kitchen but not in the living room; rather "bed" and "kitchen" are locations that stand for the activities "sex" and "cooking", respectively. Similarly, you would say "he is good with a ball" because that is what you hold when you are good at (for example) football. – CompuChip Oct 16 '16 at 16:32

The main distinction, though it is somewhat blurred, is that at is used mainly with activities requiring our physical attendance and participation, and in is used mainly with domains or areas or circumstances or environments.

We can be good at ping pong, guessing games, or calming a frightened child.

Someone (or something) can be good in the kitchen, in delicate situations, in the board room, in chemistry, in times of political unrest.

The camel is good in the desert.

Stainless steel is good in the salt-air.

The virtues of the camel and the stainless steel are manifest in those particular environments.

Some activities can be understood in either manner. When we say

She is good at math

we are presenting her as someone who can solve number problems, or who offers answers in algebra class, that is, "math" is presented as an activity in which she participates.

And when we say

She is good in math

we are presenting math as a domain of knowledge, an area of intellectual pursuit.

P.S. Good means "possessing some skill or virtue", not "showing mastery" or "possessing unparalleled excellence". So it would be comical to say

Albert Einstein was good at physics.

Beethoven was good at music.

Pelé was good at soccer.

We can be "amazing","terrible", "fantastic", "horrible", "so-so", "excellent", "very good" or "not very good", or even "a genius" at or in something.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    What about computers? "She is amazing (or good) at / in computers," – Mari-Lou A Oct 16 '16 at 11:26
  • Would you recommend a learner to say The camel is good in the desert? – Mari-Lou A Oct 16 '16 at 11:29
  • 1
    You see, I'd be inclined to say that someone is good with computers. – Mari-Lou A Oct 16 '16 at 11:31
  • 1
    with is a viable option. With emphasizes instrumentality. at suggests "knows how to work these gadgets"; "in" suggests "computers as domain of knowledge". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 16 '16 at 11:32
  • 1
    "Good" there would be understood by native speakers to refer to virtues or capabilities which are beneficial in the desert. No native speaker would understand it to mean "behaves well" in the sense of "doesn't misbehave like an unruly child". Compare A Jeep is good in rough terrain. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 16 '16 at 11:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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