It was a treat to see your group perform its music at the community event. Could you do the same for us at a private gathering next month? My company will be hosting a welcoming celebration for some clients. We are planning a special dinner and need accompanying entertainment. We'd also like to book the dancers who were with you at the concert. They were obviously quite _____ to watch.

  1. thrilling
  2. content

I choose No.2 but my textbook said the answer is No.1. Why can't I use No.2 in this situation?

Sorry for omitting. And thanks for all of opinions. I think now you can check the situation better

  • 2
    Is there any actual context?
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 4:52
  • 3
    Catija is right in suggesting that, without additional context, we have no basis for supposing that either "They were obviously quite thrilling to watch" or "They were obviously quite content to watch" is preferable to the other option. Obviously, though, their meanings are quite different.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 6:22
  • 3
    This is a terrible question. I would love to get my hands on the person who wrote the textbook. I'm sure readers would find our exchange quite thrilling. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 6:40
  • Are you absolutely certain that this example wasn't taken from a short dialogue, or from a longer text that contains several blank spaces which you have to fill in the missing answer, and this was one of them.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 13:19
  • 1
    Looking at the additional context supplied by tchrist, I'm now baffled by your choice of content as the fill-in-the-blank word, rather than thrilling. Why would you think that concluding the paragraph by remarking that that "They [the dancers at the concert] were obviously quite content to watch" makes sense?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 8:01

4 Answers 4


It's a bit confusing, since I can think of two ways to read this sentence:

  1. "I heard a loud cheer from the tent in which the acrobats were performing. They were obviously quite thrilling to watch."

    Who were thrilling to watch? The acrobats. To watch the acrobats was a thrilling experience.

  2. "I asked my friends if they wanted to jump into the pool with me. They declined. They were obviously quite content to watch."

    Who were content to watch? My friends. They were content to sit and watch instead of join me in the pool.

The question is, therefore, a bit ambiguous. The way it wanted you to read it was the way I used it in 1.


The question is very badly posed. Unless "they" is defined, either answer is correct. Acrobats are thrilling to watch. Border guards are content to watch. The text book author is incompetent.


They were obviously quite _____ to watch.

  1. thrilling
  2. content

The adjectives thrilling and content are different types of adjective. In the OP's examples, these adjectives are complements of the verb BE.

Importantly, both of these types of adjective can be followed by infinitives.

  • thrilling to watch

  • content to watch

Notice that these infinitives are really CLAUSES. We can understand them as having Subjects or Objects and so forth.

So in each sentence there is a main verb which has a Subject and there is an infinitival clause. We can understand that clause as having its own Subjects and Objects (or other Complements).

The adjective thrilling takes HOLLOW CLAUSES. This means that we understand the Subject of the main verb to be the Object of the infinitive clause:

  • The acrobats were [thrilling to watch]

means something like:

  • The acrobats1 were [thrilling for someone to watch ___1 ].

We could also show the sentence like this:

  • The acrobats1 were [thrilling for someone to watch them1 ]

The adjective content does not take hollow clauses. It is a CONTROL ADJECTIVE. This means that we interpret the Subject of the main verb as the Subject of the infinitival clause (not the Object). We understand it like this

  • The audience was content to watch

means something like:

  • The audience1 was [content for ___1 to watch something] .

We could also show it like this:

  • The audience1 were [content for the audience1 to watch something].

The Original Poster's question

The Original Poster's suspicions are kind of justified. Both answers could work well here if the sentence was on its own. Now that we have the context for the sentence though, it's clear that content would not work here. The reason is, we presume, that the people are going to watch the dancers. The dancers aren't going to watch anybody else. Notice more importantly that if content took hollow clauses that this sentence would be ok. It would mean:

  • *They1 were content for somebody to watch _____1. (incorrect interpretation of the sentence)

Or, in other words:

  • *They1 were content for somebody to watch them1. (incorrect interpretation of the sentence)

Of course, content is a control adjective and the interpretations above are not correct.

It might be worth mentioning that some adjectives can work in hollow constructions or as control adjectives. So if you go to a cannibal's house, be careful how you answer this question:

  • Are you ready to eat?
  • @BrianHitchcock Because these answers were written before the context was given. If you look at the edit history you'll be able to see the original question :) Unfortunately don't have time to edit my answer mow. Have got to run for a train ... Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 14:25
  • @BrianHitchcock Ok, so I've had an edit to reflect the change in the question. Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 16:21

It's an ambiguous question, and the right word depends on the point of view: is this describing the watchers or the watched?

If you're talking about how the watchers feel, you need "content," which describes how people feel. "Thrilling" means inducing excitement. The TV show is thrilling; the people are thrilled to watch it.

If you're talking about how the watched makes people feel, you'll need thrilling.

  • But what about the following? "I saw some dolphins playing. They were obviously quite thrilling to watch. However I decided to leave anyway." Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 5:07
  • It's still the dolphins who were doing the thrilling, not the watchers. How thrilling do you think it is to watch people watching TV? The sentence to interpret says "Obviously." It's obvious to me that watching the watchers is boring, but maybe you lead an even less exciting life. Quis custodies custodiet? Not me.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 5:15
  • Not that textbooks are never wrong, but the OP clearly says that the textbook states that "thrilling" is correct.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 5:26
  • I blame the drugs. Will edit.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 5:47
  • @chaslyfromUK Sorry that I missed your point. See my previous comment.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 5:54

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