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Why is the following sentence correct:

"A candidate with a good knowledge of English is required for this teaching position."

And NOT this sentence:

"A candidate with good English knowledge is required for this teaching position."


I mean, I understand there are some fixed terms like "the Queen of England" which cannot be re-expressed without "of", but why does "English knowledge" sound so strange? Is there any kind of rule? Thanks.

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The primary meaning of English is arguably the non-linguistic adjectival one. Certainly, when 'English' pre-modifies a noun, whether as an adjective (English food) or noun modifier (English lesson) it is being used adjectivally, and the bias towards that primary adjectival meaning is probably being felt. This is outweighed in set phrases, as you hint. English lesson sounds fine. However, 'English knowledge' probably hints too strongly at 'knowledge possessed by the English'. The best rule in this area is probably 'What is the usual practice?' ... sorry. –  Edwin Ashworth May 8 '13 at 7:50

2 Answers 2

Who told you the second one was "not correct?" I don't think "not correct" is quite the right way to say it.

I think this has to do with the word knowledge more than the word English. When talking about any kind of knowledge, I can see where a textbook teaching formal English would recommend saying:

knowledge of X


knowledge about X


X knowledge.

After all, in these expressions:

  • coin knowledge
  • car knowledge
  • garden knowledge

words that are mostly known as nouns are being put to work as adjectives. So a textbook might say that it would be better to use, knowledge about coins, cars and gardens. However, in reality, such nouns are pressed into use as adjectives all the time.

Fact is, the expression English knowledge can be found in published works academic studies, as evidenced by anecdotes found here, here, and here.

However, as Edwin points out in his comment, the phrase "English knowledge" is ambiguous; it can mean knowledge possessed by the English, not knowledge about English, as is the case here.

I would say that knowledge about English might be more formal, or more syntactically precise, but I'd be hesitant to call the other "incorrect."

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Someone with good English knowledge might well be an English major. Typically, in Anglophone schools, this does not normally mean someone with a good knowledge of English, or of English grammar, though it usually does mean someone who can speak and read English, at least somewhat. –  John Lawler May 8 '13 at 17:09

If for no other reason (and I see no reason why there should not be other reasons), I think that the former ("good knowledge of English") is preferred because it requires less cognitive effort to understand that "good" modifies "knowledge". In the latter, ("good English knowledge"), the reader must parse the noun phrase "English knowledge" to realize what it is that must be "good".

Granted, the effort involved is negligible, but writing to reduce cognitive load is a valuable skill.

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