We often come across a sentence as below.
(EX) She found a position teaching English at a high school.

I understand the meaning of the sentence. But I'm wondering how to parse the sentence. From the meaning, "teaching English" should be a phrase to backwardly modify "a position". But is it grammatical to put a gerundive modifier directly to a noun to be modified?

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Comments  (Page 2) 

You might say "a teaching position", but would you say "a working-with-foster-children-and-children's-issues position"?.

Hi Paco,

Yes, I might say that, if I wanted to speak in a deliberately odd and 'whimsical' way. Which, sometimes, we do in every-day conversation. People would understand me very easily.

If I were speaking more carefully, of course I wouldn't. But, the only problem is the length of the phrase. Grammatically, it seems adjectival to me.

I fail to see that 'a teaching position' is greatly different than 'a position teaching' or 'a position teaching children'.

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Hi Clive

You don't say "a teching English position" but you say "an English teaching position". This "English teaching" is neither a present participle nor a gerund. I take it as a noun phrase made by the nominalization of a verbal phrase "teaching English" and I take you are joining it with "position" to make a noun-noun phrase "an English teaching position". There is almost no grammar rule in making English noun-noun phrases. You use any noun as an attributive to a core noun if you feel thus made noun-noun phrases sound natural.

But in the case of post modification, to my understanding, the English language is not so lenient in forming post modified noun phrases. You cannot use a noun as a backward attributive to a noun without using prepositions. When adjectives including present/past participles are used as backward attributives, their relation to the core noun is commonly explainable with the concept of WHIZ deletions.

A couple of thoughts cross my mind upon reading your response.
I thought you might be investigating the limits of Whiz Deletion, so that didn't surprise me. I tried a similar analysis.
I thought, what about thinking of the -ing as a substitute for the infinitive simultaneous with the Whiz Deletion:

She found a position, which was to teach English ...

That is, the only reason the Whiz Deletion seems wrong is that the "which was" sounds a little less elegant with "teaching" than it does with "to teach".

Nonetheless, one might accept ... a position, which was teaching English ..., don't you think?

Have you read Hela's question on writing a letter professing his love? Does that appear to be similar to the kind of thing you're investigating? Could it be another example of this same phenomenon?

Lastly, I'm not sure I accept the concept of an ungrammatical idiomatic construct! Emotion: smile If everyone says it and not a linguist in the land questions it, it must be grammatical, no?

Paco2004Hello RVW

Thank you for the answer. Your thought sounds someway more reasonable. But still I cannot feel confident. If "teaching English" is appositive to "a position", I think, "She found teaching English at a high school" should be idiomatic, but it is not the case. Furthermore, we cannot use along with "a position" any noun phrase other than --ing. For example, "She found a position instruction of English at a high school" sounds weird. So…


I think that position (or job, occupation, vocation) is the setting in which someone performs an action; whereas, teaching is the action performed in that setting. Position and teaching cannot be direct appositives unless some more words are implicitly understood. And I think they are.
She found a job.
She found a setting in which she teaches at a high school.
= She found a job teaching at a high school.
Apparently this is an idomatic construction (one, among many, that I was not aware of). The word position (or job, etc.) requires as its appositive the gerund naming the action carried out in that position or setting.
Paul Newman has a second occupation racing cars.
She found her true vocation climbing mountains.
He turned to his secondary employment robbing banks.
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Hello CJ

Thanks for the reply. Your explanation sounded someway persuasive. But as you know well, and as far as I know, normally a WHIZ deletion can take place only when which-clause's complement is an adjectival phrase (including participles) or adverbial phrase (including prepositional phrases). We can make a WHIZ-deletion for "He sent her a letter <which was> professing his love", because "professing his love" is adjectival. We can do a WHIZ deletion for "We visited a cathedral <which was> in Russian Hill" because "in Russian Hill" is adverbial. But you usually do not do a WHIZ deletion when the which-clause's complement is a nominal phrase (including gerunds). You do not shorten "I'm reading an English book <which is> a science fiction" into "I'm reading an English book (a) science fiction". You wouldn't do a WHIZ deletion for "She went to Japan a with a purpose <(,)which was> studying Japanese classic literature" to say "She went to Japan with the purpose studying Japanese classic literature". Instead you would say "She went to Japan with the purpose of studying Japanese classic literature".

Hello RVW

I agree with you that this collocation occurs with certain specific nouns like "work", "position", "job", "vocation", "occupation", etc., namely, words to describe a setting in which persons work. I take this collocation as an exceptional usage of --ing forms. I don't know when, how and by whom this idiomatic usage was created, but as a learner, I have to accept it as it is. Thank you for your help in my understanding this collocation.


How would you analyze these?

I have trouble understanding nuclear physics.
I spent time studying advanced chemistry.

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How would you analyze these?

I have trouble understanding nuclear physics.
I spent time studying advanced chemistry.


I take them as ellipses.

I have trouble (in) understanding nuclear physics.
I spent time (on) studying advanced chemistry.

I believe some people still include these prepositions in formal writing.
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