The Cambridge Dictionary gives such an example sentence for the word 'troubleshooting':

He’s very good at troubleshooting because he knows these computers as well as anybody.

Judging from the context, we can figure out that 'as well as anybody' means he knows these computers very well.

The problem is, practically, not many people know much about computers, so if we literally comprehend the phrase 'as well as anybody' out of context, this may mean he knows little about those computers.

My question is, can 'as well as anybody' be used to mean 'bad/badly'? If it can, which meaning is more common, good (well) or bad (badly)?


4 Answers 4


The expression means "as good as the best person", so the only way it can be used to mean someone is not good at something is when nobody in the context is good at it.

A: Can you repair tractors?
B: As well as anyone here can.

Even though literally it means, "I'm the best at repairing tractors of all the people here", it's actually a self-deprecating expression, meaning, "Nobody here is really good at it, so lower your expectations of what I can do for you."

  • 8
    Yeah, when it's something you're not expected to be good at, it gets that self-depreciating tone, like, "I can breath water as well as anybody."
    – Carduus
    Oct 7, 2022 at 13:09
  • 1
    @Carduus Ooooh, that's a better example.
    – gotube
    Oct 7, 2022 at 13:54
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    "GLENDOWER: I can call the spirits from the vasty deep./ HOTSPUR: Why, so can I, or so can any man; / But will they come, when you do call for them?" — Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I Oct 7, 2022 at 14:03
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    You could edit it to add more but your example is a good one too. It could even be only partially self-deprecating. Somehow your tractor has ended up broken down at an airport. The flight mechanic doesn't know tractors, but he knows aircraft repair, and no one else at the airport knows any kind of mechanical repair, so he's "as good as anyone here" at looking at it. i.e., not an expert, but better than the guy who runs the control tower.
    – JamieB
    Oct 7, 2022 at 20:05
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    @RobbieGoodwin If you missed something, it's that the OP asked if it's possible to use this structure to express that someone is bad at something, and I addressed that question by saying, "the only way it can be used to mean someone is not good at something...", as in, this isn't what it always means, but if you're looking to use this this expression to mean someone is bad, this is the only way.
    – gotube
    Oct 8, 2022 at 5:20

Even if "not many people know about computers", the phrase "as well as anybody" doesn't compare him with the average, but with the best.

Since it means (literally) he is equal to the best in the world, it can't mean he is bad, at least relatively.

  • Michael - The phrase isn't 'as well as everybody'! He understands computers 'as well as any other person', implying that no-one understands them better than he does. Oct 7, 2022 at 9:37
  • It might be worth adding it means "at least as well" and not "equally as well". I think that's where the confusion is coming from.
    – Kat
    Oct 7, 2022 at 22:55

The phrase “as good as anybody” means (and can be restated as) “nobody better”. There’s no room for the person to be the worst choice for whatever is being referred to. There is no better choice.

It can be used to indicate that someone is not the ideal choice, while at the same time saying they are the best (available).

If you’re stuck in a cave with an injured person, you can be the best available choice for treating the injured, while at the same time being the 3rd worst choice on a world wide scale — the key being that everyone else is unavailable, so their abilities are irrelevant.

So, it can be used in a deprecating way, but only in a “things could be better” way, not “you’re incompetent, let someone else do it” way.


In your example, it's reasonably clear from context that "he" knows computers well.

The "anybody" here doesn't mean that his level of knowledge equals the average of everyone else on the planet, but that he is at least as proficient as anyone that you could possibly find to compare him with. In other words, he is equal to or better than every single person in the world (since it's impossible to find someone better). This is usually an exaggeration, of course, but the expression means that he's among the best.

To answer your question, though - it is possible to use the expression in cases where nobody in the world knows very much about the subject in question. For example, one might say that "[insert religious leader] knows as much as anybody about what happens after we die." Because this is a less common usage, we often add some extra verbiage to make it clear that we're saying it with that meaning: "[insert famous physicist] knows as much about what goes on inside black holes as anybody - and that ain't much!"

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