Saturday, June 02, 2007

Grammatically speaking

Richard Firsten has published his June "Grammatically Speaking" column. I've commented on these before here, here, here, here, and here.

This time there's a mixture of good and bad.

In the first question about the difference between I wish they didn’t do that and I wish they wouldn’t do that, I take issue with the idea of future tense and subjunctive, but it's mainly a label issue. I generally agree with his analysis.

I quite like his discussion about the difference between participles and gerunds. Again, I would have used different labels, but the reasoning is good, and that's what matters. As Firsten explains, "if you can place an article and/or an adjective before it, it is a gerund". More grammar books should keep this in mind.

I also thought the 'much' question was handled well. Where I completely disagree is with his rejection of "graduated college". This answer is everything that is wrong with prescriptivism. I've actually addressed the issue before when Russell Smith complained about it.

Merriam Webster's has an entry for it: (transitive) "1b. to be graduated from" and says that though it is often condemned, it is "standard".
The American Heritage Dictionary: (transitive) "1b. Usage Problem To receive an academic degree from." (25% of their usage panel accept this)
Random House Unabridged: "Informal. to receive a degree or diploma from: She graduated college in 1950."

Last time, I said that it wasn't common in edited prose, but I think I may have been wrong, at least as far as the US and Canada is concerned:
  • "The average person that has graduated college changes careers seven to eight times," said Christopher Hopey, vice president and dean of the School of..." (Boston Herald)
  • "'Hill' will pick up next season four years into the future, after the characters have graduated college." (Washington Post)
  • "For students who have just graduated university, scoring a job interview after graduating is an important step on the way to getting their first full-time..." (
  • "The killing of the 22-year-old Kentucky native, who recently graduated university with honors, in a tough neighborhood in Boston's Dorchester district..." (Reuters)
  • "Nisbet was a star student when he graduated high school and was picked as his school's athlete of the year" (Edmonton Journal)
  • "Before the Iraq war began, the percentage of Army recruits who graduated high school surpassed 90 percent." (Boston Globe)
  • "Elizabeth ''Betty'' Reily went through life proud that she graduated high school with A's and B's." (Miami Herald)
  • “Today three quarters of boys and half of girls have had sex by the time they graduate high school” (Newsweek).
  • “‘I have a reading disorder,’ Leschuk says, yet he struggles to think of any friends who graduated college who are doing as well” (USA Today).
This transitive sense is no less clear than the intransitive form, and it seems arbitrary and capricious to simply say it's wrong, not to mention that such treatment fails to promote any kind of understanding of the matter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All the anti-prescriptive "arguments" seem to amount to the same thing:

"Democracy and the people are good. The lowest common denominator is always right, because the majority is always right. If you disagree, then you are an undemocratic, pedantic elitist".


I don't see why you keep whining about the prescriptivists. Your has clearly won. "Comprised of", "graduated", etc., *ad nauseam* are accepted usage, now. I am certain that we have a near-infinite variety of vulgarisms to come, as well.