Intermediate+ Word of the Day: knack

knack (noun) /næk/ LISTEN

Sylvia has a knack for math.

Knack is a word used informally to mean ‘a skill or ability’ and it can also mean ‘a clever way of doing something.’ Knack also means ‘a particular talent for doing something’ or ‘a tendency to do something.’

Example sentences

  • Sylvia has a real knack with children; they adore her.
  • The washing machine does work, but you have to press the button a certain way; there's a knack to it.
  • Alicia has a knack for computer programming and works for a tech company in San Francisco.
  • Melanie has a knack of picking the wrong boyfriends; they always end up breaking her heart.

In pop culture

Listen to the Knack’s “My Sharona” here:

Don't confuse it with

The term knackered sounds similar but means something completely different. It is very common in the UK, especially in informal conversation, and means ‘extremely tired.’ For example, “I was knackered last night and slept for 12 hours.” It is not very common in the US, where we would just say “really tired” or something similar.

Did you know?

Knack can be used with either “for” or “of” when talking about a talent or tendency. Some dictionaries say that “knack of” should be used with a behavior or tendency (ie, “a knack of picking the wrong boyfriends”) and “knack for” should be used for a skill (ie, “a knack for computer programming”), but many native speakers don’t know about this rule.


Knack, which originally meant ‘a deception, trick or device,’ dates back to the mid-14th century. Its origin is uncertain, but some linguists think it may have come from another, slightly older (early 14th century) Middle English word, knak or knakke, which meant ‘a sharp-sounding blow or sound,’ which probably came into English from a Germanic language, and was originally imitative. Knack is possibly related to the German knacken (to crack), and the English words knap (a sharp-sounding blow) and crack. The sense ‘a special ability for something’ was first used in the late 16th century, though some linguists actually think knack in this sense could have been a separate word, also of unknown origin.

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