3 broken rules

I know I amlinda an anomaly: I love grammar. Actually, I don’t love grammar so much as I love the order grammar gives to language. Its rules allow us to communicate with little misunderstanding. But, for communication to occur, the rules have to be followed.

I cringe whenever I hear three rules broken — and I heard all three broken time and again as I listened intently to the politicians at the Democratic National Convention last week. As Ann Landers used to say, they deserve 40 lashes of a wet noodle.

The three broken rules? Here they are:

1. “Graduate college (or high school).” Oh, were my ears pained when I heard the phrase,”When I graduated college.” Please! Graduate is almost always an intransitive verb, which means it cannot take a direct object. If the speaker meant to say s/he received a diploma from a college, the correct usage would be “graduate from,” as in “I graduated from Indiana University.”

That said, graduate can be used as a transitive verb, but it is used in this way only rarely. As a transitive verb, it means to confer a degree or certificate, as in “Indiana University graduated 5,000 individuals last spring in an outdoor ceremony.”

2. Over. Such a little word, but it drives me crazy when it is used to mean “more than.” The first definitions of “over” refer to spatial and time relationships, such as “the roof over your head” or “over a period of 10 years.” 

OK. I’ll concede: The dictionary does allow over to mean more than, but this meaning is far down on the list of definitions. So, if you are referring to a number, use more than, not over, as in “More than 38 million people tuned in to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. That’s more than the number tuned in to the Olympics the week before.”

3. There is/there are. Strictly speaking, this phrase is grammatically correct. It is, however, editorially lazy. As an editor, whenever I see that phrase, I look to see if the sentence can be recast without it. And usually it can be. For example, “There are rules that govern speed limits” can be restated, “Rules govern speed limits.” Or “There is only one acceptable answer” can be restated, “Only one acceptable answer exists.”

Does that mean you should never use the phrase “there is”? Absolutely not. Just use it judiciously. This is a case of less is more.

Each year, the editors of Miriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary come out with new additions in American English in spelling and usage. Language does change, but at a very slow pace. Until it is official, please try not to break the rules of grammar!

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

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