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I ask because the sentence returns 0 results in Google.

I'm a little confused. Is the sentence grammatical? If not, what's the correct alternative?

Here's an example of the sentence in a context:

The river is empty, except for a group of elderly people stretching, trotting, and doing Tai Chi. I always found their sight relaxing. It reminds me that life can slow down sometimes.

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    Add an -s to sight and voila! google.com/… Not that its perfect, mind you. But it's a starting point – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 '14 at 15:18
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    No, it's not grammatical (not with the sense you intend, anyway, though there would be a ridiculously contrived context in which it could be valid and "meaningful"). What you want to say is "I always found the sight of them relaxing." – FumbleFingers Nov 4 '14 at 15:24
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    @Mari-Lou: Pluralising sights would allow a second valid (but highly contrived) meaning. The oldies have various "sights" they like to see/visit (including the view from the riverside), and the author also enjoys those same sights. – FumbleFingers Nov 4 '14 at 15:29
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    Well now there are 63 results, all from Stack Exchange sites :) – David K Nov 4 '14 at 16:41
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    It's perfectly grammatical. The problem is usage, not grammar. – micapam Nov 4 '14 at 22:36
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No; you will be understood, but there are more idiomatic ways to express this thought. Consider instead:

I always found the sight relaxing.

In this sentence, "the sight" refers to the previous sentence, and the sentence structure is simple: I (subject) found (verb) the sight (direct object) relaxing (object complement).

An alternative is:

I always found the sight of them relaxing

Here, there is a more explicit reference to the previous sentence in the predicate, but the object is still "the sight."

If you say:

I always found their sight relaxing

the possessive "their" applied to "sight" suggests that you are talking about the tai chi practicioners' vision, rather than your view of them. In actual usage, most people will understand what you mean. However, it is clearer and more idiomatic to use "the sight" rather than "their sight."

Consider a similar sentence:

I always found her weak eyesight depressing.

In that example, you are clearly talking about an aspect of her. Now:

I always found her sight depressing.

This is ambiguous; the most likely meaning seems to be the opposite of "her weak eyesight" even though the construction is the same. It is less ambiguous and more idiomatic to make this change in meaning explicit:

I always found the sight of her depressing.

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I always found the sight of them relaxing.

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'Their sight' can refer only to their ability to see. In all of the 98 citations for 'their sight' in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, 'sight' has this meaning.

The natural words for the original sentence are 'the sight of them'.

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  • I agree that in practice only one interpretation of "sight" is credible here. But it's not obvious to me how we back that up other than as you've done, by checking for evidence of any contradictory usages. Since we're talking about elderly people, suppose we switch to "I always found their smell unpleasant"? That would never be used to talk about ability to smell, only what they smell like to me. Conversely, "I always found their hearing frustrating" would only ever be about ability to hear. – FumbleFingers Nov 4 '14 at 15:51
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    I can think of no way other than negative evidence to support the claim. – tunny Nov 4 '14 at 16:17
  • Nor can I, which is why I upvoted your answer faute de mieux. I can't help hoping there might be some way to appeal to a more general principle, but my smell/hearing examples certainly don't encourage optimism on that front. Perhaps it's just that they're not the right examples. – FumbleFingers Nov 4 '14 at 16:32
  • Indeed, for the majority of questions about usage of a language, the only way to answer is by examining a corpus (or a proxy for that, such as a dictionary). Native speakers' intuitions may be indicative, but are not always conclusive. – Colin Fine Nov 4 '14 at 16:34
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The problem is with the word their. As @Chris Sunami offers, the meaning is

I always found the sight of them relaxing.

The people you are describing do not really own the sight. It differs from the concept of their image which is a characteristic that the described actually possess. But sight is really in the mind of the beholder rather than the beheld. The image you are describing is yours, not theirs.

You might find this construction informally, but it is a bit jarring and logically ungrammatical.

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  • It is neither ungrammatical nor illogical. It simply happens not to have the required meaning. – Colin Fine Nov 4 '14 at 16:32
  • @ColinFine Well, I tried to respond to what he wanted to say rather than a meaning not intended. – bib Nov 4 '14 at 16:39
  • I'm not disagreeing with your answer, @bib: I just think that neither logic nor grammaticality is relevant or helpful (I realise the OP brought in grammaticality). – Colin Fine Nov 4 '14 at 16:44
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There is nothing grammatically wrong with "I always found their sight relaxing" as an isolated sentence although it can be considered semantically ill-formed. In the narrative you've posted, however, I would use a perfect tense and would respect agreement:

  • The river is empty, except for a group of elderly people stretching, trotting, and doing Tai Chi. I've always found their sight relaxing.
  • The river was empty, except for a group of elderly people stretching, trotting, and doing Tai Chi. I had always found their sight relaxing.

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