I know this board avoids proofreading questions, but I am not sure if my question qualifies as such. Apologies if it does, but I'd very grateful for an answer.

I made a sentence whose "object/predicate" I am not sure is grammatically correct. Could you please look into it and, if it is wrong, offer suggestions for better constructions. The sentence is as follows:

The best way to fall asleep is while watching TV

Is the bolded text correct, or should I construct it differently? Thanks.

  • 2
    That looks correct to me. What caused you to be unsure it was correct? If you were to write it a different way, what would you do differently?
    – ColleenV
    Sep 16, 2014 at 17:06
  • That phrase after "is" seemed very...off to me. I am still in the process of learning English, so sometimes I tend to get confused about a lot things that, as I usually find later, weren't wrong to begin with. Edit: Thanks, @ColleenV, for your help.
    – axomna
    Sep 16, 2014 at 17:22
  • 1
    I think rephrasing your sentence to "The best time" might work. (It's still somewhat awkward to me.) HostileFork suggestion is much better. Sep 16, 2014 at 17:31
  • Thanks, @DamkerngT, for the suggestion. Could you tell me why you think it would still be awkward? I am sorry to bother; I am just trying to learn.
    – axomna
    Sep 16, 2014 at 17:36
  • 1
    (cont.) "The best time to look for a job is while you have one." -- Using when suggests a general condition, while using while suggests a temporary condition. Also compare: "The best time to start anything is while you still can." and "The best time to start anything is now, while you still can." Using the latter sentence works a little better for me. Hope this helps. Sep 16, 2014 at 18:45

1 Answer 1


Let's look at another sentence that might make the agreement problem a little more obvious:

The best way to cook spaghetti is while you are in Italy.

Compare with:

The best way to cook spaghetti is to use fresh pasta.

When you are invoking the best way ... is then people expect you to follow up with a way...not a description of a duration or a state of being. This would also be incorrect:

The best way to scare my cat is during a thunderstorm.

You really want to look at other ways of saying that.

There's nothing my cat finds more frightening than thunderstorms!

It so happens that your sentence about TV is passable in this particular case. Most wouldn't blink at it; it's "close enough for government work" (as the saying goes).

If you really want to make the case that having the TV running is the ideal way to fall asleep, when compared with all other ways, something like this would be better:

Leaving the TV running while you nod off is the best way to fall asleep.

  • 1
    Ah you're right. I overlooked "best way" and focused on the object. "It's easier for me to fall asleep while watching TV." would be OK. I shouldn't post in ELL when I'm tired :)
    – ColleenV
    Sep 16, 2014 at 17:30
  • @ColleenV As I said...I think you could generally get away with that particular sentence; didn't trip your radar as obviously wrong, and probably wouldn't for most other people...hence picking a more obviously problematic example. Sep 16, 2014 at 17:33
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    @axomna Can you say The time to panic is while drowning? I think The best time to fall asleep is when you are watching TV works better, just as I think The best time to panic is when you are drowning works better. If you turn your other sentence into a Q&A as "Q: What is the best way to fall asleep?" and "A: By listening to soothing music." it calls attention to the awkwardness of by to start the answer, yet still, you can get away with The best way to dine is by candlelight. Grey areas here! The best way to fall asleep is to play soothing music while you drift off. Sep 16, 2014 at 17:56
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    @axomna Well it isn't math...so don't feel bad about not knowing all the weird rules--they're all made up and evolved over time! These questions are actually really kind of hard to give satisfying answers to, because of how inconsistent the language is. I should go back to the programming questions where I actually know the answers... but when in doubt, go with "The best way to (X) is to (Y)" Sep 16, 2014 at 18:03
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    @HostileFork "The best way to dine is by candlelight" is a bit different though because "by" doesn't mean the same thing in "by candlelight" as it does in "by doing something". In "by candlelight" it means the kind of light when something is being looked at (8b in the linked definition). For example "by the dawn's early light". It seems like the shorter a word is in English, the more definitions it has.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 16, 2014 at 18:44

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