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My dream is becoming an English teacher.

Do native speakers not think that the person who says that wants to become an English teacher?

And, by any chance, do native speakers think that he/she went to bed and had a dream, and in the dream he/she became an English teacher?

In dictionaries, all examples I could find were:

My dream is to become an English teacher.

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SHORT ANSWER:
My dream is becoming an English teacher is not a grammatically acceptable English sentence.

LONG ANSWER:
This is a licensing matter. That is, there are four clause-types which can act as Noun Phrases; but each verb or adjective or noun which takes an NP complement licenses—that is, accepts—only a subset of these types.

The noun dream licenses a somewhat different set as predicate NPs:

  • that clauses: My dream is that I will become an English teacher.
  • to-infinitive clauses: My dream is [for me] to become an English teacher.

The verb dream, however, licenses only one type:

  • that clauses: I dream that I will become an English teacher.

You cannot say I dream to become an English teacher. On the other hand, you can use the verb dream with a prepositional phrase headed by of + gerund (the -ing form of the verb):

I dream of becoming an English teacher.

The noun dream also licenses this prepositional construction as a modifying clause:

My dream of becoming an English teacher will be dashed if I cannot master the pluperfect.

But gerund clauses are not licensed by the noun dream as predicate NPs. If you want to use a gerund NP you must back into it with this awkward construction:

My dream is one/that of becoming an English teacher.

My dream is becoming an English teacher is therefore simply nonsensical. It means, literally, that your dream is undergoing the process of being transformed into an English teacher!

Unhappily, there’s no way of predicting what constructions any given word will license; you have to learn this word by word.

You will find more discussion of licensing here, here, and here

  • 1
    I think introducing the word licensing, and saying the gerund form is "grammatically acceptable" significantly overstates the case for what is in the end just a matter of one form being more "idiomatic" than the other. I don't see anything ungrammatical in My dream/ideal/goal is having [whatever it is I really want]. – FumbleFingers Sep 15 '13 at 17:12
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    @FumbleFingers I've never encountered dream is VERBing. But the experts tell us that gerunds have been gradually replacing infinitives for a couple hundred years now (The Great Complement Shift), so maybe this one snuck in under my defenses. ... But your 55 'hits' actually page down to 34. 12 of those give no text. 15 are "my dream is becoming a reality", 3 are "my dream is becoming a nightmare", and of the remaining 3, 2 are in books with titles in Chinese characters, so I see little evidence that the construction is actually in use. – StoneyB Sep 15 '13 at 17:55
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    @FumbleFingers ... and the last use occurs in this sentence: “My dream is becoming a singer, my parents think there’s no real future in that and it’s a passing faze I’m going through.” I'll stand by my assertion. – StoneyB Sep 15 '13 at 17:57
  • 4
    Great answer, +1. I smiled at the image of a dream transforming into an English teacher, which was my first thought when I read the sentence as well :) You're completely correct, though I will add that if a non-native speaker did make this mistake, they'll still be understood. The alternative is so ridiculous that we'll certainly understand the intent! – WendiKidd Sep 15 '13 at 18:32
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    My dream is being able to win the argument, but I sense my dream is fading. – FumbleFingers Sep 15 '13 at 19:26
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Idiomatically, native speakers would nearly always say...

1: My dream is to become a... (4,260 results in Google Books)
...rather than...
2: My dream is becoming a... (55 results)

In such context, no-one really thinks about dreams as experienced while sleeping. The figurative usage is so common today it's just interpreted as an alternative to my ideal, or my greatest wish, etc.

The word is also used even more figuratively as, for example,...

My new car/job/girlfriend/etc. is a dream! (it/she is perfect).


Following extended debate under StoneyB's answer, I feel I should point out that I think the usage figures underrepresent the prevalence of the gerund form #2 above (as a more recent usage, it's probably more common in current speech than what are mainly older texts). As that answer indicates, some people (not me) think the form is "incorrect". But here are several perfectly respectable written instances of...

part of the American dream is owning [a house, car, whatever]

I defy anyone to claim that syntactically, part of the American dream is any different to my dream, or that becoming an English teacher is different to owning a house.

None of that invalidates the implication of my first sentence. If you want to make sure your English is beyond reproach today, don't use the gerund form yourself. But if you want to feel comfortable with English as it's likely to develop over the coming decades, get used to the fact that this type of gerund usage is becoming increasingly common, and thus increasingly acceptable and "grammatical".

  • So native speakers don't often say "My dream is becoming a", I understand. Thanks. – skypescenery29 Sep 16 '13 at 10:45
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    @Mari-Lou: That would be a desperate attempt to explain why no native speakers would ever use the gerund here. It may well be the vast majority agree with StoneyB that it's actually incorrect. But I consider myself a competent native speaker, and I don't think it's wrong - just uncommon. Imho the problem isn't explaining why a few "wrong" usages exist. That preceding sentence contains a similar construction, and doesn't bother me. The issue is why it's often felt to be wrong, rather than why there are a few instances in print. – FumbleFingers Sep 16 '13 at 12:58
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    I agree: unless we get clued in by other context, we generally think of the verb dream meaning to aspire to, or to hope for. If we're talking about a dream that happened during sleep, I'd expect the sentence to be the past tense: "I dreamed I was an English teacher – and FumbleFingers was in my classroom! It was a nightmare!" ;-) One exception to that use of past tense would be when describing a recurring dream, but, in that case, there's still plenty of context to figure out what the speaker is talking about: "I keep having this dream that I've become an English teacher..." – J.R. Sep 16 '13 at 15:12
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    @Mari-Lou: Haha - "easy on the ear", huh? Not on StoneyB's ear, obviously! I think you may have hit on a key point though - if lots of (particularly, I suspect, older) Anglophones don't like it, that could explain why it seems under-represented in Google Books compared to what we're accustomed to hearing in casual speech. I think it's similar to "This car needs washing", as opposed to "This car needs to be washed", where in my opinion the former is more common in BrE (and may also be more common in recent times, I don't really know). – FumbleFingers Sep 16 '13 at 15:46
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    @FumbleFingers Perhaps the word you are looking for is licentious. :) – StoneyB Sep 17 '13 at 10:42

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