His English is exceptional.

If it is applied to non-native speaker:

What rank of English when someone is considered being "exceptional"?

Does his knowledge of English is similar with native speaker?

Does he perform English in a different way compared to the other English learners?

What things can be classified as being exceptional in this context?


Suppose someone told me that your English was "exceptional".
Regardless of whether you are a native speaker of English,
I would expect your English to be much better than most native speakers of English. For example:

  • Your vocabulary would be good enough that you could read a George Will column, and know what 98% of the words mean.
  • You know how to put together parts of words to make understandable longer words.
  • You know how to put together words to make understandable phrases and sentences.
  • Your spelling would be good enough that if you entered a spelling bee against a sample of typical thirteen year old native speakers, you could easily beat half of them, and you would have a chance of winning. (But you might only know how one country spells the hard "spelling bee words".)
  • You can use conjunctions (like "and", "or", "but", "either", "neither", and "nor") to make logically correct sentences.
  • You know how to split up a run-on sentence into easily understandable sentences, without changing the meaning.
  • When a grammar checker complains about your writing, you either know why it is right, or you know why your way of writing is better.

Some of the frequent answerers on this website have "exceptional" English.


In this context, exceptional has the idea of being extremely good. If the word is used correctly, you should get essentially the same meaning if you substituted extremely good for exceptional.

In answer to your direct questions:

  1. the speaker's English would be considered extremely good;
  2. interestingly, exceptional is strongly bound to the speaker's standards and the context, so there may not be a direct correlation with an arbitrary group that is judged by someone else. For example, a non-native speaker in their first year of primary schooling who is judged to have exceptional English is not likely to have a comparable grasp of the language to an adult native speaker;
  3. his use of English is likely to be more fluent, grammatically correct, natural-sounding, etc. compared to one whose English is not as polished; and
  4. anything that can be compared to any standard (even a subjective, internal, hard-to-articulate standard) by any judge can be considered exceptional by their standards within the context of their assessment.
  • My understanding is that exceptional has a higher rank than extremely good. When a non-native speaker is considered having exceptional English, it means that his knowledge of English has surpassed the normal standards. What do you think? – Student Feb 4 '16 at 6:04
  • Ah, you're looking for adjectives to compare with exceptional. Please have a look at my answer on EL&U on this topic. In the document that my answer links to, exceptional was assigned a score of 8.7, compared to excellent with a score of 8.3 and amazing with a score of 8.9, or near the other end, dreadful with a score of 1.9. Let me know if this better fits your intended question. – Lawrence Feb 4 '16 at 6:14

If a person's usage of a language is considered exceptional it usually can be said that they are articulate or well-spoken, and their usage of both spoken and written language is better than most of all native speakers (as an absolute scale).

For non-native speakers this would include speed of comprehension and response, and the emotional understanding that native speakers will naturally have for wording and phrasing. In other words: the culture.

The acid test would be to be confused for someone who is a native speaker both over the phone and in an email. To speak with a native accent can be quite an accomplishment.

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.