I am editing an article by a non-native speaker who is using the expressions:

1. what is to be learned

meaning the things that the students are expected to learn or that which is to be learned

2. what is possible to learn

meaning those things which it is possible for a student to learn in a particular situation

3. what is made possible to learn

in the following sense: the teacher (or circumstances) make it possible for the student to learn X so X is "what is made possible to learn"

The first of these phrases seems grammatically correct to me, even though it is a bit awkward.

The second two phrases sound wrong to me but I am having difficulty analysing exactly why they don't work (particularly in the case of "what is made possible to learn".

The main problem seem to be that one can't say "X is possible to learn": that we need to say "it is possible to learn X", so "what it is possible to learn" would probably be better. But I suspect there is another problem with the third sentence - I just can't put my finger on.

I would really appreciate if someone could help me to understand exactly what the problem is with these constructions and, if possible, suggest an alternative.

  • All three sounds just fine to me – mplungjan Nov 13 '13 at 13:42
  • For the third sentence, it's better to use "What makes learning possible?" – user57270 Nov 13 '13 at 15:04
  • That would be much more straightforward :) Unfortunately what the speaker wants to refer to are the things can be learned (and this learning is made possible) rather than the things that make this learning possible. – cathmach Nov 14 '13 at 12:49

Perhaps what is making you uncomfortable is his or her use of the passive voice. ("What is made possible to learn [by me]." vs. "What I make possible to learn.")

As for suggestions, how about just going with something simple:

"what students should learn,"

"what students can learn,"

and "what teachers enable students to learn."

  • I agree that it's the passive that is causing problems here (maybe because when we say "What is made possible" the what refers to "learning X" rather than to X itself). The difficulty is that he would like to avoid specifying exactly what factors make the learning possible (teachers, resources, previous experience etc.) I personally like the idea of "what students can learn" - thanks! – cathmach Nov 14 '13 at 12:54

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