LawProse Lesson #208: “Graduate,” vb.

LawProse Lesson #208: “Graduate,” vb.

Graduate, vb.      Last week, at a performance of The Originalist in Washington, D.C., the stage actor Ed Gero—in a superb portrayal of Justice Antonin Scalia—delivered the small gaffe of having the Justice say “she graduated Harvard College.” After receiving a friendly suggestion later that evening, Mr. Gero assured me that in future performances, he will say “graduated from,” a necessity to verisimilitude in his portrayal. In fact, though, the traditional idiom—dating from the 16th century—was that the school graduated the student {Yale graduated Sue.} or, more commonly, that the student was graduated from the school {Sue was graduated from Yale.}. During the 19th century, usage shifted from the passive voice, so that graduate came to be what is known as an “ergative verb”: a student was said to graduate from the school {Sue graduated from Yale.}. This continues to be the most common and accepted wording. But in the mid-20th century, usage began to shift again, toward an even shorter transitive form by omitting the word from {My son graduated high school last week.}. Although this wording is becoming increasingly common, it is best avoided. A school can graduate a student or a student can graduate from a school, but a student does not graduate a school—at least not in good usage. As the Washington Post copyeditor Bill Walsh puts it, “When I hear ‘I graduated college,’ I want to answer ‘No, you didn’t.’ . . . [Y]ou call your education into question if you omit the from.” With the graduation season upon us, that’s a good thing to remember. Further reading: Garner’s Modern American Usage 399–400 (3d ed. 2009). R.W. Burchfield, The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage 339 (3d ed. 1996). Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage 134 (Janet Whitcut ed., 1994). Bill Walsh, Yes, I Could Care Less 65, 99 (2013). The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 119 (2013).

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