Consider this sentence

There must be an alternative to people sleeping on the streets.

I understand the first half "there must be an alternative", a simple there be + sb./sth.

I also understand the use alternative to + sb./sth.

I don't understand the structure of the remaining part. I guess the whole part "people sleeping on the streets" could be called reduced relative clause, and "sleeping on the streets" functions an adjective that describes people. However, directly convert the present participle to a relative clause does not seem to work.

There must be an alternative to people who are sleeping on the streets.

Note: I understand the meaning of the sentence, I just don't understand the structure.

2 Answers 2


"People sleeping on the street" is a gerund clause. It is a clause with the verb in its participle form "sleeping", functioning as a noun.

You could say, for example

Pears are an alternative to apples.

You can see the word "apples" is a noun. By analogy to this, the phrase "people sleeping on the street" is a noun phrase, and this one is a gerund.

  • Thank you so much. Would you please give some reference for gerund clause? I searched that on Google, Cambridge Dictionary grammar tutorial and got none hit.
    – WXJ96163
    Mar 24, 2020 at 10:29
  • "Gerund phrase" might have been better. chompchomp.com/terms/gerundphrase.htm The examples there don't have a subject (people in your example)
    – James K
    Mar 24, 2020 at 10:38

"People sleeping on the streets" means there are homeless people. Saying "there must be an alternative" means that the writer finds the societal condition of homelessness unacceptable, and insists that there must be an alternative: a solution to the problem of homelessness.

"People sleeping on the streets" can be analyzed as this relative clause: "People who are sleeping on the streets" reduced by removing the relative pronoun.

  • Thank you. I understand the meaning of the sentence, I just don't understand the structure.
    – WXJ96163
    Mar 24, 2020 at 6:57
  • Maybe the edit I made will be closer to what you wanted. Mar 24, 2020 at 7:03
  • Thank you so much. Does it reduce the original relative clause to something else? or it is still a relative clause, a reduced relative clause.
    – WXJ96163
    Mar 24, 2020 at 7:15
  • As far as I know, that's the term. There's a long discussion at this link: english.stackexchange.com/questions/366906/… about whether a present participle should be called an adjective. There seems to be some controversy. Mar 24, 2020 at 7:57
  • Thank you. The "term" in "that's the term" means "relative clause", right?
    – WXJ96163
    Mar 24, 2020 at 8:01

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