If someone’s past profession is teaching for example then what do we say for them in a grammatically correct way? The confusion is that if we say “ he was a teacher” it could also mean he is now dead and was a teacher before. So the question is how to best describe a person’s profession who is now retired or doesn’t do that anymore in a grammatically correct way?

  • 1
    He's a "retired teacher" or a "teacher (retired)".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 22:38
  • Also “former teacher.”
    – Xanne
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 2:15
  • You can say 'He was a teacher' if previous conversation has made it clear that he is still alive. Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 8:23

1 Answer 1


As the commenters said, "retired teacher" or "former teacher" are both very clear, and are used commonly in spoken and written text.

In academic contexts, you might also use the term "emeritus", again definition from Dictionary.com:

emeritus, adjective [ ih-mer-i-tuh s ]
(1) retired or honorably discharged from active professional duty, but retaining the title of one's office or position

emeritus, noun, singular [ ih-mer-i-tuh s ]
---> noun, plural e·mer·i·ti [ih-mer-i-tahy, -tee]
(1) an emeritus professor, minister, etc.

  • This use of alumnus, in British English at least, is wrong. It is only applied to former students, and using it of professors would be extremely problematic [note the typical British understatement there.]
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 10:10
  • @AndrewLeach Thank you for noting a difference between American English and British English! Would you like me to edit the answer to note this distinction? Would you elaborate with more info about the connotation of this issue in British English?
    – wanderling
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 10:25
  • You are (a) misrepresenting a professor as having been a student at the institution he taught at -- which is likely not to be the case; (b) even if it is the case, you are ignoring his professorship and making his student time more important. At a minimum it's misinformation; on a rising scale it's also grossly disrespectful and in some cases it could be grounds for libel. And yes, please do edit the answer to restrict the usage to applicable dialects -- although I'm surprised it can be used this way in AmE.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 10:29
  • @AndrewLeach Thank you for explaining. In this case, it seems better that I delete the information about "alumnus" from the answer, considering the severity of the context. Regarding American English and "alumnus," I am now doubting my memory of instances where I heard it used for a professor, although I've heard it used in such academic contexts. Thus, I fully deleted the section on "alumnus" in order to have the answer be accurate to what we are certain of --- that being the British English application.
    – wanderling
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 10:33

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