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I am confused between

I am very bad in poetry

and

I am very bad at poetry

Can anyone explain which one should I use.

  • 1
    This doesn't really answer your question, but you could always say: I'm a terrible poet. (If you can't find a preposition that sounds right, sometimes you can restructure the sentence and get rid of the preposition.) – J.R. May 11 at 9:58
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    The first could be talking about the antagonist of a poem. (Perhaps based on the person uttering the comment.) The second is talking about somebody who writes poetry. – Jason Bassford May 11 at 9:58
  • Very good thought @JasonBassford, I’ve included this and cited you in my answer. – whiskeychief May 12 at 0:17
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The preposition "at" or "in" changes the meaning a little bit. Here is how:


I am very bad in poetry

This is unusual. This could mean:

I behave very badly in poetry class.

But the listener should understand that "poetry" means "poetry class", otherwise this is very unnatural. Because this is such a specific situation, there would need to be context:

"When do you find it hard to sit still and behave?" said the teacher.

"I talk too much during music class," said Alice.

"I misbehave during French class," said Bob.

"I'm very bad in poetry," said Carol.

@Jason Bassford suggests it could also mean:

When I am portrayed in a poem, I am described as a very bad person.

"When songs and stories are told about me, they make me look like a hero," said Odysseus.

"I am very bad in poetry," said the minotaur.

Either of the above is pretty obscure.


I am very bad at poetry

This is very well understood to mean:

I am very bad at the art of poetry.

I am very bad at the art of writing poetry.

I am very bad at writing poetry.

I am very bad at creating poetry.

The use of "at" is so common in this kind of sentence, that "writing", "creating", or "the art of" --- all meaning creating --- can be dropped with no loss of meaning.

Dropping the participle is a little tricky, and just as in the first example, it requires context.

Here, you can drop "creating" because poetry is an art, so we assume you mean creating the art, not consuming (reading or reciting) it, or doing other things (publishing it, copying it from books, lifting books of it, engraving it in stone). This is generally understood.

For any other usage besides the most common, you would need to set the context before dropping the word "creating".

"What kind of text can you engrave?" said Alice the stonemason.

"I'm very bad at poetry," said Bob the engraver.

"Me too," said Carol.

Some situations don't have any general understanding of what you mean. For example, this converation by itself is confusing:

"I'm very bad at furniture," said Alice.

"Me too," said Bob.

But if you know this conversation is between two woodworkers, or two painters, or two students studying the art of painting, then you'll understand that they mean building furniture, painting furniture, or painting pictures with furniture in them.

Dropping the "action word" -- the participle -- requires context for the situation to make sense. It's only safe to drop the action word when the context is obvious.

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