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When not a teacher, he lived a life of a monk.

This sentence is perfectly possible and is missing a subject, so I was just curious if I can say this also.

Students were absentminded, thinking what to do when (they) get home early.

If (they are) not doing homework, they get lazy.

Is it OK to delete "they" (or "they are") in these sentences?

  • anyone please? I am so desperate now. – uoeirja Aug 28 '15 at 3:19
  • No, it's not OK as written. Perhaps "The students were absentminded, thinking what to do after getting home early." – Jason Patterson Aug 28 '15 at 3:23
  • What about "when not a teacher, he lived a life of a monk" and "if not doing homework, they get lazy"? – uoeirja Aug 28 '15 at 3:24
  • Using this sentence formation, you would probably say "When not a teacher, he lived the life of a monk." I can make your second sentence work, but it would sound much better with a subject in the "if" clause. – Jason Patterson Aug 29 '15 at 17:58
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+100

For your first example ("the students"), no, you cannot delete the subject.

In your second example, yes, you can delete the subject, but it is not common to do so.

  • By first, do you mean "students were absentminded, thinking what to do when (they) get home early"?. – uoeirja Aug 28 '15 at 4:09
  • Or do you mean this? when not a teacher, he lived a life of a monk. – uoeirja Aug 28 '15 at 4:11
  • Rather a spare answer, which the OP @uoeirja should not have accepted so quickly. – user20792 Aug 28 '15 at 4:51
  • @uoeirja By first example I mean the students. – Dog Lover Aug 28 '15 at 4:58
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It is common to omit the subject and the verb to be, and if the subject and verb are lacking, it will almost always be interpreted as the verb to be. As such, you should only ever omit the verb to be and both it and the subject must be omitted.

This renders your first example nonsensical as "get" has no subject, and removing "get" will make it be interpreted as the following:

Students were absentminded, thinking what to do when (they are) home early.*

Early without get leaves this more open to interpretation, for example, it could just be early in the morning, and furthermore the sentence does not sound natural so I would revise it as such:

Students were absentminded when thinking about what to do when home from school early.

The "home from school" clarifies this.

Your second sentences, since it uses to be, is fine, as long as you remove both they and are.

If (they are) not doing homework, they get lazy.

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It is technically right, because students would be implied in the first one and they in the second one. The second one, however, changes the meaning. "If not doing homework" is a dependent clause, not independent. So, in some cases, yes, and some, no.

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First Example

In the following example that you provided, your use of "they" is correct. You can't omit it.

Students were absentminded, thinking what to do when they get home early.

You can not say the following:

Students were absentminded, thinking what to do when get home early.

This is because it is not implied who you are talking about in the second part of the sentence.


Second Example

This sentence, as you would probably expect, is correct:

If they are not doing homework, they get lazy.

However, it is also perfectly acceptable to say:

If not doing homework, they get lazy.

This is because it is implied who you are talking about in the second part of the sentence.


Note

You said that it was perfectly acceptable to say this:

When not a teacher, he lived a life of a monk.

This is correct.

However, in English it does read better if you say (formally):

When he was not a teacher, he lived the life of a monk.

Or (informally):

When he wasn't a teacher, he lived the life of a monk.

As an English speaker myself, my preferred choice would be the latter.


Conclusion

It is okay to omit "they" from the first part of the sentence as long as you make sure that the reader knows who you are writing about (he, she, they, we and so on) after they have read the second part of the sentence.

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