Wondering how “Students avoid boring professors” is ambiguious?

I know there is one meaning of this sentence, "stay away from". Is there any other possible meanings?

  • 1
    To 'avoid doing something' means to 'make sure you don't do that thing'. So one reading here is 'Students manage / make sure not to bore their professors.' It's a catenative structure: 'avoid boring' cf 'stop teasing'. Your sense uses 'boring' as a participial adjective. The classic example in this area is 'Flying planes can be dangerous.' Feb 2, 2014 at 16:32
  • 2
    Another is Visiting relatives can be boring. Feb 2, 2014 at 16:38

3 Answers 3


The ambiguity comes from the word "boring," which can be interpreted as an adjective or a noun (see gerund).

You read the sentence as:

Students avoid professors who are boring.

(Which I think is the most natural interpretation, unless there is further context.) Here "boring" is an adjective, modifying "professors."

However, it can also be interpreted as:

Students avoid making their professors bored.

Here "boring" is a noun, referring to the act of making someone feel bored.


The two possible meanings:

  1. Students stay away from boring professors.
  2. Students try hard not to bore their professors.

But I believe everyone else has told you the same. :-)

  • So why answer at all? :) One comment and two other answers had already given this information, so you haven't meaningfully added anything. Feb 2, 2014 at 18:27
  • Because when one reads the other answers here, there's a good chance they'd get lost in such a blizzard of words. I tried to keep it as simple as possible.
    – Louel
    Feb 2, 2014 at 18:35

If boring is taken as an adjective, it means "Students stay away from professors who are boring." But boring can also be taken as the gerund form of the verb to bore, in which case the sentence would mean "Students do not bore professors."

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