December 15, 2009

Which is the more embarrassing bungling of verb forms?

1. "If you were graduating from Princeton in the first part of the 20th century, you probably heard the university president, John Hibben, deliver one of his commencement addresses."

2. "I really wonder how the stimulus would have went had Lieberman been kicked."

74 comments:

Meade said...

Good morning, fellow democrats and lovers of the Obama Doctrine.

"Evil does exist in the world."
"War is sometimes necessary."

Thank you.

Meade said...

Sorry for being slightly off topic.

Brooks' of course, is the more embarrassing error.

Bissage said...

I don’t see anything wrong with number one, but then again, I’m from South Jersey.

Nichevo said...

I didn't look but #2 seems more choke-worthy. #1 you could just let slide over you and just feel dirty after, but #2 - ack!

TW: prebo. These are some prebo posts you're putting up, Prof!

Nichevo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ann Althouse said...

Nichevo, I don't need that kind of trouble on this one. Let's stick to grammar... and loving the Obama Doctrine.

mccullough said...

Probably no. 2 (the old went for gone)

I think number one should be past perfect ("If you had")

Ann Althouse said...

I think #1 is more embarrassing because:

1. It's the first sentence in a column in the NYT. (And #2 is a blog post.)

2. Brooks has a copy editor to help him. (I don't know if Coates had editing help. I'm guessing he doesn't.)

3. Brooks's whole tone and presentation is incredibly pretentious and that's the very thing that gets him into trouble. (Coates gets into trouble in the middle of trying to sound like a tough guy. He could even claim to have done it on purpose.)

Synova said...

What's wrong with the first one? (Not saying there's not something wrong with it, but I don't see it.)

The second one should be "would have gone?"

My grammar isn't the worst but there are certainly areas where I have no idea what is correct... and I always am interested in improvement.

Nichevo said...

Bwahaha, I defer to you, but you know I'm right, and Crack would agree.

Actually, no, I take it back, there are peasants from various demographics who would have coughed up such a construction.

Let me, then, amend that to "raised by wolves."

Henry said...

Maybe Hibben delivered all his commencement addresses at every graduation. You couldn't shut the guy up.

dbp said...

Two sounds worse to me. Now I will go to the links to see who said each...

Jonathan Campbell said...

#1 is not a grammar error, although it is awkward. It is no more erroneous than "If you were running down the street at 3pm today, you probably heard the gunshots."

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I assume the cavil with #1 is "would have heard" instead of "heard"? It may be wrong but it doesn't grate on the ear.

#2 is one of my pet peeves. I hear it a lot, and to me it signifies ignorance.

traditionalguy said...

Is the second quote a throw back to Elizabethan English? It is like reading Shakespeare with only modern words. But the first quote is really bad, and it hurts to read it.

former law student said...

Two, because everyone is taught to use "gone", and few really understand the subjunctive mood. Fix #1 with "...you most likely would have heard..."

Lem said...

As the worlds foremost authority on my grammar I would have to say #2

The problem with #1 is that "were" seems to be going to the future and then winds up going back in time.

If you were graduating from Princeton in the first part of the 20th century.

mccullough said...

Who says the New York Times has copy editors?

Brooks is pretentious. If he had graduated from Princeton, he would not have committed such a solecism.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I agree with Jonathan: "if you were graduating" doesn't have to be interpreted as subjunctive. The eye wants to interpret it that way just the same, because it expects to see a verb like "graduating" connected with a definite time. "3 p.m. today" fills the bill; "in the first part of the 20th century" does not.

Bissage said...

Is the first one a crime against parallelism? Is that it?

To my ears, “graduating” means you were sitting on a folding chair and listening to various speakers.

To say “if you were graduated from” is fine. But you were not necessarily there to hear Mr. Hibben.

IOW, what Jonathan Campbell said.

Kylos said...

Did Nichevo make a crack about Ta-Nahusi Coates? A bad, racist crack? I know Anne believes in free speech, so it must have been bad.

rhhardin said...

In college I tried to compose a German I sentence that employed every known verb rule, which I believe went, less umlauts,

Er sagte, dass Deutsch von uns gesprochen zu werden gelernt worden sein sollen haben mussen haben wurde.

He said that German will have had to have been supposed to be learned to be spoken by us.

A very particular verb aspect.

Thurber advises against the perfect infinitive.

Lem said...

of course if this is a trick.. and I always think its a trick.. the more embarrassing bungling would have to be #1

but of course thats exactly what you would have counted on for me to think..

wv - floggshi - this is a rouge school

Bissage said...

PZ, as well.

42.

virgil xenophon said...

"If ONE were graduating....ONE would probably have heard...."

But#2 is the grating, finger-nails-on-blackboard worst.

MadisonMan said...

Here's how I'd write them:

If you were graduating from Princeton in the first part of the 20th century, you probably would have heard the university president, John Hibben, deliver one of his commencement addresses.

I really wonder how the stimulus would have gone had Lieberman been elected Vice-President.

Re: #1: It makes it sound like Hibben had several addresses that he selected, unchanged, from a pile. If you were graduating from Princeton, it was because it is impossible to flunk out.

Big Mike said...

I can understand a blogger trying to give a pass to #2 because it's "just a blog post," but (A) Brooks' error is subtle enough that I suspect 99% of all high school English teachers in the US would not immediately pick up on it, while(B) Coates' error makes him look utterly uneducated.

rhhardin said...

Limbaugh just said "raconteurs" when he meant "reprobates," unless Babe Ruth was a storyteller.

Top of the one o'clock hour.

class-factotum said...

#2 is how they talk in Minnesota so #1 must be wrong.

Skyler said...

I think complaining about either one is exceedingly pedantic.

There are no rules in English, we do not have an English Academy like the French and Spanish do. The English tried centuries ago to make one and failed because they couldn't get anyone to agree on what was "correct" English.

Add to that the absurd belief (made by one man with the first popular grammar primer and a very distorted appreciation for the importance of Latin) that splitting infinitives and ending a sentence with a preposition are wrong and one must conclude that English is an ever changing and developing language and the only important rule is that you be understood,

There are conventions, but they are of limited usefulness. In law we strive for clarity so that laws and judicial pronouncements can be interpreted any way we like without seeming to be arbitrary. Thus the trappings of grammar tend to be emphasized more. One must ask here whether the meaning of each of these sentences is lost in any way.

I say no. Any speaker of English knows precisely what is being said and the language is richer for the variety in which people can express thoughts.

So what's the beef? I think both are fine. If you have to look too hard to find an error in grammar then perhaps the lesson to be learned is not that the writer made an error, but that the pedant has too much time on her hands.

mccullough said...

Skyler, using the word pedantic is itself pedantic. How about using high-falutin' instead.

Joe said...

#1 is pretentious writing, but I don't see it as being incorrect.

Had I been his editor, I would have at least suggested... nah, I would have just fired the bastard long ago.

John Burgess said...

rhhardin: Those aren't mutually exclusive categories. Ruth was famous for telling stories about himself. Some remember him for that. Others remember him for his off-field behaviors.

WV: unguinge It sounds sticky and probably illegal in all Southern states.

traditionalguy said...

Skyler...You cannot see the trees for the forest. The sharp elbows of bad grammar are easily understood but are still not pleasant. Think of My Fair Lady and say stuff right like Eliza Doolittle learned to do, while her Father got rich being himself.

Chip Ahoy said...

First is more embarrassing because everybody knows at the first part of the 20th century Princeton was Americas premier college for the deaf. Later in the century that facility was transferred to Gallaudet. ←.2% of possible FACT!

t-man said...

Bissage,

Are you smoking dope?

Princeton is NOT in South Jersey!!!
Burlington County is the northernmost county in South Jersey. Princeton is practically New York!

Defenseman Emeritus said...

Well, Lois, since you asked, I find this meatloaf rather shallow and pedantic.

Beldar said...

Usage note from dictionary.com:

--------

In the sense "to receive a degree or diploma" graduate followed by from is the most common construction today: Her daughter graduated from Yale in 1981. The passive form was graduated from, formerly insisted upon as the only correct pattern, has decreased in use and occurs infrequently today: My husband was graduated from West Point last year.

Even though it is condemned by some as nonstandard, the use of graduate as a transitive verb meaning "to receive a degree or diploma from" is increasing in frequency in both speech and writing: The twins graduated high school in 1974.

--------

I agree that the "was graduated from" construction now sounds pedantic, somewhat like the distinction between "raised" and "reared." So were I copy editing these two, I'd go with:

"If you graduated from Princeton in the first part of the 20th century, you probably heard the university president, John Hibben, deliver one of his commencement addresses."

- and -

"I wonder how the stimulus would have gone had Lieberman been kicked."

But the second sentence, without context, still makes little sense to me, and I'm not interested enough in Coates' opinions to bother to click the link for more context.

Kurt said...

aaarrrggghhh... it just ate my comment. :-(

Using many more words than I will now, I said that I thought #2 was definitely worse. Most people would read over #1 and not notice anything objectionable.

I also agreed that Skyler had a point. In his useful book Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, Joseph Williams devotes part of his chapter on "correctness" to discussing some of the many "invented rules" that influence many people's thoughts and ideas about grammar and usage.

Lem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beldar said...

Sorry, muffed the link to dictionary.com; it should have been to this URL instead.

Chip Ahoy said...

#2 is one of my pet peeves. I hear it a lot, and to me it signifies ignorance.

Tyrone skillfully avoided one of my pet peves, alot for a lot, every time I read it, which is a lot, a corner of my brain goes,

GODDAMNIT! THAT A LOT.

And that noisy corner is more disruptive than the infraction that caused it.

AJ Lynch said...

Brooks is a dope- the grad's parents may listen to commencement speakers but the grads never do!

Chip Ahoy said...

My other pet peeve is my fingernails getting longer than 1/16 inch beyond where they come out. They give me the creeps, although I admit they're handy for picking off labels. When I see people with really long fingernails then I get REALLY creeped out. Even my dogs all had filed-down paw nails.

knox said...

I can't make fun. Since I had kids, most of my comments are dashed-off, and a lot of them are probably grammatically awful. But then, no one's paying me to write them.... so, hey, I can make fun, yay!!

Lem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lem said...

Ouch.. I just caught that to* in my comment.

take 3 - I see a gay marriage corollary in Skiler's position that as long as you are understood there ought not * be hard fast rules in the English language.

As long as two people (maybe tree) love each other why limit them to a man and a woman?

Chip Ahoy said...

And a tree!

Lem said...

and maybe 3

oh no what a disaster!

wv - predi

AJ Lynch said...

"a lot" used in business bugs me too.

John Lynch said...

I wouldn't have noticed either sentence as incorrect. I make enough errors that I don't like dwelling on the grammar mistakes of others.

John Lynch said...

And OT with Meade-

I add the "Make no mistake" to "Evil does exist in the world." It's total Bush.

peter hoh said...

mccullough said: Skyler, using the word pedantic is itself pedantic. How about using high-falutin' instead.

According to this sign, being highfalutin (or high fullutent) is a sin.


wv: tryinsac

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Chip Ahoy said...

...Tyrone skillfully avoided one of my pet pe
(e)ves, alot for a lot...

I always wondered which way was correct. I think I read your expression of disgust with "alot" in these pages some time ago and it stuck with me. "Self", I said to my self, "He's right, dammit-- damn it."

Skyler said...

In the sense "to receive a degree or diploma" graduate followed by from is the most common construction today: Her daughter graduated from Yale in 1981. The passive form was graduated from, formerly insisted upon as the only correct pattern, has decreased in use and occurs infrequently today: My husband was graduated from West Point last year.

Oh my, that must be what Ann was looking for. That is even more pathetically pedantic than I imagined. I put this on the same level as the weirdos who insist that decisions must be "taken" and not "made."

I thought she was referring to the possible confusion of the tense, which was bad enough to complain about.

Skyler said...

And I have yet to see a coherent explanation of why the second example is wrong.

former law student said...

The passive form was graduated from

is irrelevant here, because the tense is the past continuous, whether indicative or subjunctive. The passive voice is always "was arrested." "Was arresting" is active.

former law student said...

The past participle of go is gone. "Would have went" should be "would have gone." "Would have went" is just as wrong as ""would have ate."

Dave in Tucson said...

The clumsy "hypothetical time traveler" format of the first sentence causes it to collapse under the weight of its own verbiage.

Why not just say something like "John Hibbard was Princeton's university president in the early 20th century. During his tenure, many students heard him deliver one of his commencement speaches."

Skyler said...

fls, you're right, I foolishly missed it.

Bruce Hayden said...

My votes for the first are:

1a. "If you had been graduating from Princeton in the first part of the 20th century..."

1b. 1. "If you had graduated from Princeton in the first part of the 20th century..."

"Were graduating" is just not right. By one source, it is the Past Continuous, while "had graduated" is the Past Perfect and "had been graduating" is the Past Perfect Continuous.

The difference, I think, is that the Past Continuous may not be complete. Something happened in the past, but the the action may have continued after that. Alternatively, the action was interrupted in the past. In both the Past Perfect and Past Perfect Continuous, the action is complete.

I would also change "probably heard" to "probably would have heard". This is the Past Conditional, which is probably needed to coordinate with the "If" conditional phrase.

Bruce Hayden said...

Here is my rewrite of #2:

"I really wonder how the stimulus would have gone if Lieberman had been kicked."

The first problem with #2 is the use of "went". It should have been "would have gone". The difference is that "gone" is the Past Participle, and "went" is the Past tense. What we want here is the Past Perfect, which is typically formed by "had"+Past Participle (i.e. "gone"), resulting in "had gone". As with my version of #1, the "would" converts this to a conditional, so that we have a Past Perfect Conditional.

The second problem is that there is an "if" implied by the "would have gone" (Past Perfect Conditional).

The third problem is that the parts to the "had been kicked" are split up, and should probably be combined.

The most jarring of the three problems is the first (went/gone). The other two are less so, at least for me. Indeed, there are many who do not see any need to keep the parts of a verb together.

Bruce Hayden said...

Finally answering Ann's question, I would think that #2 is more jarring, at least to me. The gone/went problem is one of those things taught fairly early to students learning grammar. The problems with #1 are more subtle.

Joe M. said...

The first one is awkward, but I can't spot a real error. "heard" instead of "would have heard" might qualify. All in all, it's bad writing, but hardly egregious.

The second, on the other hand, is terrible.

Terrie said...

Brooks still writes like a college kid padding his writing assignment with filler words and elongated verb conjugations to meet his professor's minimum page requirement. No wonder he feels such an affinity to President Blowhard. His opening sentence sounds like what passes for modern conversational intellectualism.

The second error is easier to catch in print, but that is the way many people speak and I sure don't correct them. Do you?

mccullough said...

Bruce Hayden, I didn't think you could have the past perfect continuous tense combined with the subjunctive. So I think grammatically it has to be "If you had graduated" plus "would have heard."

Bruce Hayden said...

Bruce Hayden, I didn't think you could have the past perfect continuous tense combined with the subjunctive. So I think grammatically it has to be "If you had graduated" plus "would have heard."

It's not the subjunctive. The subjunctive is contrary to fact. This is conditional. "If A, then B" (conditional), not "If I were a woman" (subjunctive).

Bruce Hayden said...

Actually, as I thought a bit more about this, the subjunctive may be useful here (since most of us did not, in fact, graduate from Princeton during the 1st part of the 20th Century), except that I don't think that we have the right one available.

My view is that the time reference of the verb is more important here than whether it was subjunctive or not. The timing of the first phrase in the first example ended in the first part of the 20th century. So we really need the past perfect or past perfect continuous.

The problem with "were graduating" as the subjunctive is that it may not be a subjunctive. Its subject is "you", and in the last century or so, "you" has expanded to cover both the singular and plural second person. But since it started as the plural, it takes a plural verb. Now, if he had used an archaic second person singular, such as "thou", then "were graduating" would be the subjunctive and might be correct - except, again, the timing issue. Both "was" and "were" "graduating" are Past Continuous, which means that the action was not necessarily complete at some point in the past. We know that it was, since it ended in the 1st part of the 20th Century.

Doing a bit more research, the Past Perfect ("had graduated") is also the Pluperfect Subjunctive, or the Past Perfect Subjunctive. This is also apparently sometimes known as the "Past Conditional".

From Inwood said...

It took me several readings of Brooks’ pompous reference to see the “error”. With news columns, I read quickly & for sense & I admit that the supposedly “smart” opening would’ve registered on me more as puffery than as a grammatical error.

In #2, the “went” mistake jumps off the page & marks the writer as illiterate, however.

I tend toward the points in the 11:43 of Prof A. (Is the appellation “Prof A” pretentious as opposed to saying “Ann”? Is “appellation” pretentious here? Is “pretentious” as opposed to “stuff shirty” “pretentious? I digress)

I would, however, add to her #: “because the NYT is so pretentious itself & is always amused at the grammar/syntax mistakes of others, so long as they are not avowed Democrats.”

I would say that in informal writing, the Principle of Proportionality should apply. People are not going to be as careful as they would in formal writing. And ordinary readers are not generally going to read hastily written blog comments or e-mails with a mental “blue pencil”.

Nevertheless, even one of those informal “how’s things & let’s get together” notes with misspellings & illiteracies, with no punctuation, & typed in either all upper or lower case, is off putting.

My embellishment of a description of some now forgotten expert regarding the rules of grammatical handbooks to simple e-mails & blog comments would be: obviously, basic rules of grammar & spelling should be followed as an indication that the writer is intelligent as well as a courtesy to & a sign of respect for to the reader, but whimsical shibboleths involving gerunds, punctuation, clichés, etc. seem stuffy regarding such informal writing.

So, Gower’s grammar rule would apply to grammar/syntax (as well as to spelling & type face) even in an blog or e-mail: avoid “lapses from what for the time being is regarded as correct [which] irritate the educated reader and distract his attention, and so make him the less likely to be affected precisely as you wish.

john marzan said...

fuckin' althouse.

Steven said...

Ick, #1.

If you had graduated from Princeton in the first part of the 20th century, you probably would have heard the university president, John Hibben, deliver one of his commencement addresses.

Meade said...

@john marzan: To avoid embarrassment, that should be put in the subjunctive form.

former law student said...

@john marzan: To avoid embarrassment, that should be put in the subjunctive form.

"Were Althouse no longer celibate...?" But that situation is no longer speculative.

I guess it should be "sexually active Althouse." That at least removes the obscenity.

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