I came across the idiom "be first in Maths". But I couldn't find any with other school subjects. Is it possible to say "be first in Geography/Physics"? Or the preposition "in" goes only whith Maths? When did this idiom "be first in Maths" come to be?

  • Using "be best in something" sounds more natural to native speakers. Apr 15 '15 at 11:50
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    "Maths" is British English. In American English it's singular, "Math". Apr 15 '15 at 13:21
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    It should work the same way with any school subject. Where did you come across this phrase to begin with?
    – Keiki
    Apr 15 '15 at 16:47
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    @TRomano Use of the word "first" in this context also strikes me as British English.
    – R Mac
    Apr 15 '15 at 19:54
  • @Keiki , my child's teacher told he should use "in". (we study British English)
    – Andorian
    Apr 16 '15 at 14:29

The short answer is that it is equivalent to:

Be (ranked) first in math

And so it is possible to be first in other subjects, so long as there is some way to rank participants.


In this situation, "Maths" is referring to the group (i.e. Maths class), not the subject of the lesson.

  • You can be first in the group - first in Maths.

  • You can be the best at the subject - best at Maths.

  • You can also be the best in the group - best in Maths.

  • But you can't be the first at the subject - first at Maths. X

The same rules apply for other classes/subjects.


At first I thought you were right, but after that I realised that it was "first", not "good".

We do not say "be first in/at" but we say "be first for".

Definition of "for" by Dictionary.com

with the object or purpose of

e.g. to run for exercise.

be first [with what? Math.] for Math

Nevertheless, it is still possible to use in/at for similar cases.

be good at Math

your Math is good

be good in Math

you are good in Math (class/lesson)

  • As a Canadian born in Britain, for in this context sounds very foreign to me. At or in seem much more natural.
    – Octopus
    Nov 5 '15 at 6:44

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