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I am pretty sure that both "swim teacher" and "swimming teacher" are valid, but are there any rules that would make one preferable to the other?

As a British English speaker, "swimming teacher" is what I would naturally say and "swim teacher" sounds more American to me. However I have just been debating whether "swim" or "swimming" sounds better with my girlfriend (who is also a native speaker of British English), and she would say "swim teacher" more naturally. She argues that "swimming teacher" reads more like "someone who teaches while swimming".

So, is there any real difference between the two?

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3 Answers

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I am surprised that your girlfriend finds "swim teacher" more natural: In my (also UK) idiolect it is impossible.

"X teacher" (meaning "teacher of X"), X is usually (I would have said always) a noun, and nearly always an uncountable abstract: swimming, physics, calligraphy, elocution, French, carpentry, driving. The cases I can think of where it is countable are musical instruments (violin, piano), but in these cases you can paraphrase as "teacher of the piano", where "the piano" is a sort of universal, and hence again uncountable even though it "piano" is normally countable.

"Swim" as a noun is countable (even if the plural is rather rare), meaning "single event of swimming", and so does not fit into the pattern for me.

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Both dance teacher and dancing teacher are fine, I guess this is because dance is both a noun and a verb. –  Peter Shor Apr 12 '12 at 0:50
    
Great explanation of why your answer works. I was trying to figure it out, but couldn't; you did. –  zpletan Apr 12 '12 at 4:30
    
@Colin - Thanks. I was surprised that she found "swim teacher" more natural too, hence the question. Your explanation is very helpful. –  James Allardice Apr 12 '12 at 7:46
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Ngram using American English ... agrees with you.

Ngram

LINK

To be sure, here in America we probably prefer "flight instructor" to "flying instructor" or something. "Speech teacher" preferred to "speaking teacher".

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I find that surprising. I've heard "swim" enough (in the USA) that the two terms sound interchangable to me. For instance, there's a private (meaning pay-to-swim) pool here in town named "Miller Swim School" –  T.E.D. Apr 12 '12 at 22:09
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Riffing off @GEdgar's answer, I considered "swim coach" vs. "swimming coach" and found them recently becoming essentially equally common:

enter image description here

I would surmise that the rise of "swim coach" has influenced the acceptability of "swim teacher".

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+1 That looks about right for what I hear out and about here in the middle of the USA. In fact, I'd go so far to say that saying "swim" instead of "swimming" has become a mark of how serious you are about it. –  T.E.D. Apr 12 '12 at 22:12
    
+1, I hadn't considered that it could be the other word ("coach" instead of "teacher") that makes more of a difference but it's very interesting. –  James Allardice Apr 12 '12 at 22:29
    
British English is very different. –  Andrew Leach Apr 12 '12 at 22:59
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