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Graduate grammar guideline from MLP

| May 17, 2022 1:00 AM

With graduation season at hand — a celebration of goals met and journeys completed, honoring the occasion with formality is a cherished rite of passage. We dress up, spruce up homes for the party, lay out a tasty spread.

Why stop there? The honors bestowed upon these deserving graduates should extend to words.

Let’s get this right: Is it graduated from? Or just plain graduated? Reader and retired English teacher Betty Stone observes both and wants to know.

(No need to take notes, Dear Readers. No pop quiz; school’s almost out.)

Graduates, in your first job interview should you say, “I graduated from North Idaho College?” Or simply, “I graduated University of Idaho?” You may have also heard, “I was graduated from LCSC.”

In other words, where’s the action? Should “graduated” be transitive (CHS graduated 900 students, she was graduated from Lakes) or intransitive (she graduated from Timberlake)?

If time has faded your memory, a transitive verb has or acts upon an object noun. An intransitive verb doesn’t need one.

I graduated BSU is the “new transitive,” says old reliable Merriam-Webster, which condemns none of the three. Webster says “graduated from” (intransitive) is most common, followed by the new transitive “graduated.”

Consulting history, in the 19th century the fashion was to keep the 500-year-old term transitive, as in "the student is graduated."

“This word, when applied to one who receives a degree from a college, is a past participle of the verb to graduate, (to mark with degrees, to confer a degree,) and requires some part of the verb to be before it. Yet it is, oftener than otherwise, used in the past tense of the active verb. In the memoir of Webster, at the beginning of his dictionary, it is said that ‘he graduated with reputation in 1788.’ The biographer might as well have said that "he born on the 16th of October, 1758." — Edward S. Gould, "Good English," 1867

While most grammarians agreed with Gould, acclaim wasn’t universal. A few critics called it nonsense. Most preferred the verb’s action to be passive (a little oxymoronic joke there).

“Graduated. Students do not graduate; they are graduated. Hence most writers nowadays say, ‘I was, he was, or they were graduated’ and ask, "When were you, or was he, graduated?" — Alfred Ayres, "The Verbalist," 1894

Fast forward to more recent decades when American English speakers have mostly stuck with “I graduated from PFHS.” The 1828 Webster Dictionary stayed neutral by listing both transitive and intransitive uses. Today’s accepts all three.

While at first the transitive “Charter Academy graduated 200 this year” or “She was graduated cum laude from STEM” was predominantly accepted as the rule, as so often happens, usage has changed that. Today, it’s widely agreed there is nothing wrong with saying, “He graduated from Holy Family.”

Note: There is one more option accepted both early and late in “graduate” history: Dropping “from” or a helping verb altogether. It’s also MLP’s preferred answer. “She graduated South Texas College of Law.”

It just sounds cleaner. Simpler. Life is complicated enough without adding words.

It really doesn’t matter. Only Mrs. Language Person gives a hoot about all this anyway. And probably got it wrong.


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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