Episode 107: May 16, 2008
Grammar Girl here.
Today's topic is graduation.
I can't believe it's already May. Graduation season is around the corner, which means my inbox will soon be full of complaints about the phrase "graduated college." And those complainers are right to be annoyed.
For example, Becky from Sacramento wrote in last year to say that it's like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard when she hears people say something like "He graduated high school in 1988." "Is it correct to omit the preposition [from]?" she asks.
No, Becky, it's not correct. The sentence should read "He graduated from high school in 1988."
Graduated Versus Graduated from
At first I thought this topic was too narrow to deserve a whole podcast. I haven't really heard the phrase "graduated college" or "graduated high school" much myself, but apparently I just don't get out enough because when I did a Google search, the phrase "graduated college" was twice as popular as the phrase "graduated from college." Twice! The wrong way of saying it showed up twice as often. I scrolled through the results for "graduated college" hoping perhaps I hadn’t thought of a saying in which the two words just happened to show up next to each other, but alas, every result I looked at was a student talking about how they had just graduated college. I then realized I was going through the five stages of grief.
Scrutinizing the results was actually the first stage--denial. I really couldn't believe that the wrong wording would be twice as common.
Then came anger. What kind of education are these kids getting? It's a disgrace!
I skipped bargaining and went straight to depression. If it's really that bad out there, what is the point of even doing a grammar podcast? Nobody cares. Nobody listens. Its a lost cause irregardless of what Squiggly and myself cogitate about the matter*.
And although this might be stretching the analogy of the five stages of grief, I suppose this podcast is a form of acceptance. It is bad out there, but we can still do our part. People do listen. So listen closely: If you go around saying you graduated college, you sound illiterate. The correct way to say it is that you graduated FROM college. Here's why:
"To graduate" is a verb, and it can be both transitive and intransitive. Remember that a transitive verb takes an object and an intransitive verb doesn’t. Remember, an object is the thing or person the verb is transferring action to--the thing the subject is taking action on.
When you say that someone graduated from a specific college you are using the intransitive form of "to graduate" because the verb has no object. Let's say Squiggly got a degree from Burrow College. Although it's a bit archaic, the formal way to say this using the intransitive form of the verb "to graduate" is to say, "Squiggly was graduated from Burrow." The more modern way to say it and still be correct is "Squiggly graduated from Burrow." You need the "from." Squiggly graduated FROM Burrow. The shortest form of this sentence would be "Squiggly graduated." If you think about it that way, you can see that "from Burrow" isn't an object, it's just a prepositional phrase that tells you more about where Squiggly graduated from.
The thing is, when you say, "Squiggly graduated Burrow," you've turned "to graduate" into a transitive verb. By definition, the act of graduating is something a school does to a student, not something a student does to a school. Schools graduate students. You could say that Burrow graduated 600 students this year. However, if you say, “Squiggly graduated Burrow,” you're making Squiggly the subject and Burrow the object and saying that Squiggly did something to the college. It's possible Squiggly did many things to the college during his tenure there. He may have damaged the college, delighted the college, or desecrated the college--but he didn't graduate the college.
I don't know why so many people have taken to dropping the "from" and are going around saying they graduated college, but it really is wrong. Do your alma mater a favor and make your English instructors proud. Tell people you graduated from college or high school.