I stumbled upon an IELTS True / False question. The text is:

.... Grants are available ... in the areas of music education (e.g. working with a talented music student...) ...

(Cambridge IELTS 14 General - Test 3 - Second passage)

and the sentence which test-taker should judge about its truth is:

You can apply for a grant that will help to educate a musician

My understanding was the text says the grant will help to educate someone to be a musician while the statement in question says to educate someone who is already a musician, so the statement is false. Answer sheet doesn't agree with me :)

So, is it a well-known structure to use teach/educate a professional to say teach/educate the profession to somebody? And can you provide me some examples?

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    It would certainly apply to anybody studying music at a tertiary level, and to a lot of younger people. The second definition is "any person, whether professional or not, skilled in music". The text you're quoting mentions "a talented music student" - music grants aren't given out to people who have not already demonstrated existing skills.
    – nnnnnn
    Sep 25, 2021 at 13:24
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    The syntactic object of to educate normally identifies the "student" before / while being educated, but imho it's not unreasonable to use it to describe who that student will become as a result of being educated. In the exact cited context, this distinction is somewhat blurred anyway. At what point does a person who wants to study music merit the label "musician"? Before, during, or after spending years studying it? Only after they earn money from it, or gain critical acclaim? Sep 25, 2021 at 13:25
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    Currenty, UK newspapers are full of references to the need to train HGV drivers. But obviously the people who will be trained are not "HGV drivers" when they start training. In this context, there's no difference between to educate and to train so far as the current status of the direct object (musician, HGV driver,...) is concerned. You could say the same about the need to license more HGV drivers, and I'm sure similar situations arise with many other verbs. Sep 25, 2021 at 13:28
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    I've never heard even the most extreme pedant complain about I married my wife (at Gretna Green), but I expect someone has (on the grounds that she wasn't "my wife" at the actual time I married her, so it should be I married the woman who would become my wife...). Sep 25, 2021 at 13:40
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    @FumbleFingers Being a wife is "being a woman who has the statute of being legally united to a man from a certain date to another"; if that woman is dead she is not a wife any more but a "late wife". Therefore, in my opinion there is never a problem in saying for instance "he married his wife last year only": it is just saying concisely "he married as recently as last year the woman with the statute of being united to him as a husband for some time now".
    – LPH
    Sep 25, 2021 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


Short Answer

Yes, however...

Long Answer.

According to MW, 1b seems to be the definition closest to your question:

to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession

In this popular, soft dictionary, 'to educate' transitively is especially used to inculcate the knowledge-how and knowledge-that of "skill, trade, or profession".

What you are asking about draws a fine distinction about what inferences can be drawn about the expertise of the person in question in the construction. That is, if you are educating a musician, what is the competency of the musician? If one says, I want to educate a musician, what can be known of the education level of the musician? In other words, it can be read in two ways:

  1. To 'educate a musician' is to take a non-musician and make him a musician.
  2. To 'educate a musician' is to take a musician and improve her education to make her a better musician.

Which does the definition specify? Neither! So, it can be read both ways. Furthermore, it's possible to claim there is essentially no such thing as a non-musician and therefore there is no 1. at all.

In the first claim that it can be read both ways, this is semantic ambiguity, plain and simple. Here are two examples with additional context:

A. Let us find someone who is interested in becoming a professional musician and educate them. Let us educate a musician!

B. Let us find a professional musician who wants to move beyond tab and learn the theory. Let us educate a musician!

Both of these are grammatical and sensical, and despite the second sentence in each example being identical, they mean different things. :D This is the power of anaphora beyond mere pronouns!

Now, it raises a question to push back on your question. Is there really that much a difference between a non-musician and a musician? In other words, how do you even know the difference? According to the prototype theory of cognitive semanticists, it's possible to see musician as an all-encompassing category where no clear distinctions exist between beginner musicians (everyone uses rhythm, melody, etc. whether they're conscious of it or not) and expert musicians (who still are only using rhythm, melody, etc.) Another way of saying it, is at what point from being able to depress keys on a keyboard does one actually become a musician? Chopsticks? The Marine Corps Hymn? Bach's Two-Part Invention in F Major? How many songs? A repertory of 1? 10? 100? 1000?

Armed with this background, let's answer your specific question. I'm going to take the liberty of changing the formatting.

I stumbled upon an IELTS True / False question. The text is:

.... Grants are available ... in the areas of music education (e.g. working with a talented music student...) ...

(Cambridge IELTS 14 General - Test 3 - Second passage)

and the sentence which test-taker should judge about its truth is:

You can apply for a grant that will help to educate a musician

Does the phrase "to educate a musician" refer to 1. or 2. above? Here the hint of the author's intent seems to lie in the phrase "talented music student". Let us first agree that if that phrase had said "non-musician" or "professional musician", there would be no ambiguity, so this is most certainly the phrase that the semantics turns on. What are the implications of "talented music student". A definition of talent from MW:

a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude

I would simply argue that is impossible to know that someone demonstrates an aptitude for music unless they demonstrate the behaviors of a musician readily, that is to say, they are a "natural musician". Furthermore, from real-life experience, it's likely that anyone providing grants to educate musicians wouldn't consider musicians of lower ability while considering those of no ability. Thus a grant is likely to go to a beginner musician, an amateur musician, and a student musician over a non-musician, that is someone with no proven capacity at all.

Thus, from the direct and indirect context of the passage, and an understanding of how the category of musician is graded, it is more reasonable to interpret this passage as 2 above.

As a former educator, I can say while it is possible to prepare someone specifically to become a professional in a discipline, most educators and education programs are open-ended in terms of their intent. When I taught mathematics, I never really presumed that my students would publish research papers in mathematics, but rather that the mathematics I taught would enrich their lives in a way they chose. Perhaps it was to become an engineer, and maybe they would teach it, but the general concern was much broader than vocational training. I suspect that would largely be the same with music pedagogy.

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    Great job! You put it precisely, thanks!
    – reith
    Sep 25, 2021 at 13:53

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