v. ex·celled, ex·cel·ling, ex·cels
To do or be better than; surpass.
To show superiority; surpass others: excels at tennis.
[Middle English excellen, from Latin excellere; see kel-2 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: excel, surpass, exceed, outstrip, outdo
These verbs mean to be greater or better than someone or something. To excel is to achieve a level higher than another or others: She excelled the other speakers in wit and eloquence. To surpass is to go beyond another in performance, quality, or degree: "Nevertheless, I had a sense of overwhelming modernity, of being a pioneer, of having surpassed my mother's generation by leagues and light-years" (Shirley Abbott).
Exceed can refer to being superior to another (an invention that exceeds all others in ingenuity), to being greater than something (a salary exceeding 250 thousand dollars a year), and to going beyond a proper limit (exceed one's authority). Outstrip and outdo imply leaving another or others behind, as in a contest or competition: The student outstripped her classmates in academic honors. "So back she went to join the other village flirts, and she outdid them all, with her flaunting smile and the wondrous way her body moved" (William Goldman).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.