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Bestow Is a Transitive Verb

The following use of the verb bestow in an article about Harper Lee in The Washington Post caught my attention:

But for Christmas 1956, a wealthy couple who doted on the struggling young writer bestowed her with enough money to take a year off and write.

The verb bestow has been in the language since Chaucer’s day. It derives from an Old English verb meaning “to place” or “to put.” The meaning that survives in modern speech is “to confer as a gift or as an honor.” The thing being conferred will be the direct object of bestow. Here is the Harper Lee quotation rewritten:

But for Christmas 1956, a wealthy couple who doted on the struggling young writer bestowed enough money on her to take a year off and write.

Here are two more examples that demonstrate the correct use of bestow:

In 1938, Harvard bestowed an honorary degree on Walt Disney. 
The object of bestowed is “an honorary degree.”

The prior year, the Belgian government bestowed a set of six medals on the pair for their work with undernourished children.
The object of bestowed is “a set of six medals.”

One source of error is in the use of bestow is to treat it as if it were an exact synonym for give:

The village has also bestowed her a new clinic

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce bestowed her a star on the Walk of Fame.

Each of these sentences uses her as if it were the indirect object of bestow, but bestow does not take an indirect object.

Note: An indirect object stands between a transitive verb and its direct object. Either the preposition to or for is “understood” when an indirect object follows a transitive verb:

She sent me a letter. She sent [to] me a letter.
He built the child a tree house. He built [for] the child a tree house.

The preposition that goes with bestow is on.

The previous sentences may be rewritten in one of two ways:

The village has given her a new clinic.
or
The village has bestowed a new clinic on her.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce gave her a star on the Walk of Fame.
or
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce bestowed a Hollywood Walk of Fame star on her.

Another error with bestow may result from confusing it with endow:

Incorrect: Johnny Carson bestowed him with the nickname “Excitement.”
Correct : Johnny Carson endowed him with the nickname “Excitement.”

Incorrect: And this genetic trait bestowed him with a gorgeous, spicy-colored ginger coat and big, bright sapphire eyes.
Correct : And this genetic trait endowed him with a gorgeous, spicy-colored ginger coat and big, bright sapphire eyes.

I can’t think of any explanation for this example I found on LinkedIn:

Her experience has bestowed her a notable leader as a seasoned Real Estate Professional.

The intended meaning seems to be “Her experience has transformed her into a notable leader as a seasoned Real Estate Professional.” 

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Pronoun Review #3: Object Forms

The following appears in a by-lined article in a state newspaper:

[A basketball referee] filed a harassment report…claiming [two men] followed he and another official to their cars after the game, yelling obscenities.

In this sentence, the masculine pronoun is the object of a transitive verb, followed. The direct object answers the question “What?” or “Whom?” after the verb. When a pronoun functions as a direct object, the object form is required:

The men followed the referee. (direct object of followed)
The men followed him. (direct object of followed)
Two men followed him and another official to their cars. (direct object of followed)

Not all of the English personal pronouns retain distinct subject and object forms.

The pronoun you, for example, has only one form, which may be used as either subject or object:

You forgot to lock the car. (subject of the verb forgot)
I didn’t recognize you in that tuxedo. (object of the verb recognize)
Let’s keep this between you and me. (object of the preposition between)

The pronoun it also has only one form for subject and object:

I can’t find my purse. It is in the kitchen. (subject of the verb is)
Where’s the spider? I can’t see it. (object of the verb can see)
Quick, step on it. (object of the preposition on)

The five remaining personal pronouns—I, he, she, we, and they—do have object forms: me, him, her, us, and them.

Two common errors with I and me is their reversal in compound subjects and objects:

Incorrect: Mike and me are planning a cruise.
Correct : Mike and I are planning a cruise. (compound subject of the verb are planning.)

Incorrect: The Smiths have invited Harold and I to dinner.
Correct : The Smiths have invited Harold and me to dinner. (compound object of the verb invited.)

Incorrect: Keep this news between you and I.
Correct : Keep this news between you and me. (compound object of the preposition between.)

The following examples are gleaned from formal news articles:

Incorrect: Norwood had claimed that two men in ski masks had followed she and Murray into the store.
Correct : Norwood had claimed that two men in ski masks had followed her and Murray into the store. (compound object of followed.)

Incorrect: They were complete strangers who stopped to help she and her baby.
Correct : They were complete strangers who stopped to help her and her baby. (compound object of to help)

Incorrect: [The girl], who spent a great deal of time at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, recalls the incredible nurses and doctors that helped she and her family through the entire process.
Correct : [The girl], who spent a great deal of time at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, recalls the incredible nurses and doctors that helped her and her family through the entire process. (compound object of helped)

Some day, perhaps all pronoun object forms will disappear in English. Until that time, native English speakers who write for a living can reasonably be expected to master the uses of I and me, he and him, and she and her.

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Pronoun Mistakes #3: Which Is Not for People

The following erroneous use of which appears in an article in The Huffington Post:

On New Year’s Eve at 11:45 am, Pope Francis called up the small community of the Carmelite nuns of Lucena in Cordoba, Spain, but they didn’t pick up the phone. Their once-large community has now dwindled to a mere five nuns, three of which are from Argentina, which is also the pope’s home country.

The second sentence should be written this way:

Their once-large community has now dwindled to a mere five nuns, three of whom are from Argentina, which is also the pope’s home country.

The pronoun who stands for human antecedents. Which is used with non-human antecedents. The object form of who is whom.

In the example, which is used correctly as a pronoun for the country of Argentina, but the nuns should be referred to as whom.

Here are some more examples of the misuse of which, together with corrections:

Incorrect: For the 2011 elections, this system allowed for 266 senators, 208 of which were elected and 58 of which were designated by the autonomous communities.
Correct : For the 2011 elections, this system allowed for 266 senators, 208 of whom were elected and 58 of whom were designated by the autonomous communities.

Incorrect: Our beliefs about blindness will affect how we act toward the blind children with which we work, our expectations for them, the way we teach them, the messages we give them. 
Correct : Our beliefs about blindness will affect how we act toward the blind children with whom we work, our expectations for them, the way we teach them, the messages we give them. 

Incorrect: My child’s last three classroom teachers, two of which were first years, were totally unprepared to teach.
Correct : My child’s last three classroom teachers, two of whom were first years, were totally unprepared to teach.

Incorrect: More people died in the firebombing that preceded the atomic bombs, many of which were civilians.
Correct : More people died in the firebombing that preceded the atomic bombs, many of whom were civilians.

Incorrect: This is the actual man on which the movie Django Unchained is loosely based.
Correct : This is the actual man on whom the movie Django Unchained is loosely based.

Incorrect: Your professional manner was admired by all of our guests, some of which hope to contact you in the future.
Correct : Your professional manner was admired by all of our guests, some of whom hope to contact you in the future.

Nuns, senators, children, teachers, people, man, and guests are all words that refer to human beings. They require the pronoun who or whom— never which.

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Verb Review #8: Passive Voice

The way some writing coaches slam Passive Voice, one might imagine that its use constitutes a grammatical error. It doesn’t.

In the context of grammar, Voice refers to the relation of the subject of a verb to the action of the verb. In English, there are two possibilities:

1. The subject performs the action.
2. The action is performed upon the subject.

Compare:

A swarm of angry wasps attacked an unwary hiker.
This sentence is “in active voice” because the subject (wasps) performs the action (attacked).

An unwary hiker was attacked by a swarm of angry wasps.
This sentence is “in passive voice” because the subject (hiker) received the action of the verb (was attacked).

It is impossible to say which sentence is the better stylistic choice without knowing its place in a larger context.

The first sentence might be preferable in an article about the habits of insects, whereas the second sentence might be the better choice in an article offering advice to hikers.

Only transitive verbs (the ones that take an object) can be used in passive voice:

The boy hit the ball.
The verb (hit) is transitive because it has an object, ball. The sentence is in active voice because the subject (boy) performs the action.

The ball was hit by the boy.
The verb still belongs to the category of transitive verbs, but the sentence is in passive voice because the subject (ball) is the recipient of the action (was hit).

The usual way to express the passive voice is with a form of “to be” (is, are, am, was, were, being) and a past participle. For example:

The door was slammed by the boy.
The cantaloupe was eaten by racoons.
The baby was placed in protective custody.

Sometimes the “to be” verb will be accompanied by other auxiliary verbs, as in the combinations has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been.

The use of passive voice is a stylistic choice. Its overuse creates a stodgy tone, but it should not be regarded as a bane to be avoided at all costs. Passive voice is justified when a writer wishes to emphasize the receiver of an action rather than the doer.

The worst that can be said of passive voice is that it’s sometimes used deliberately to obscure meaning or avoid blame. High-ranking government officials, for example, are quite fond of passive voice as a means of distancing themselves and their colleagues from blame.

Political journalist William Schneider has labeled this blame-avoiding use of passive voice “the past exonerative tense.” The most frequent passive phrase used to avoid blaming anyone or anything for something that went wrong is “mistakes were made.” For example:

I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility.—Alberto R. Gonzales Attorney General 2007, RE: firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

Obviously, some mistakes were made.—John Sununu, White House Chief of Staff 1991, RE: violation of White House travel rules.

But we did not achieve what we wished, and serious mistakes were made in trying to do so.—Ronald Reagan, State of the Union address, 1987. RE: Iran-Contra.

Mistakes were made, and the proper protocols were not followed.”—Julia Pierson Former Secret Service Chief, 2014. RE: White House Security Breach.

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Posthumous and Posthumously

Researching another topic altogether, I came across this startling use of the word posthumously:

Nicholas Schmidle, whose narrative account of the death of Osama bin was completed without ever interviewing any members of SEAL Team 6, posthumously wrote an article entitled “In the Crosshairs’’ in The New Yorker.

Posthumously means “after death.” An article may be published posthumously, but writing one posthumously would be quite a feat.

The adjective posthumous is applied to an action or reputation occurring, arising, or continuing after death. For example, John Kennedy Toole acquired a posthumous reputation for his novel A Confederacy of Dunces, which wasn’t published until eleven years after his death. Posthumously, he won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Or perhaps the passive would be better here: He was awarded the prize posthumously.

The word comes from the classical Latin adjective postumus that was used to describe a child born after the father’s death. The h in the English word may be the result of folk etymology by association with the word humus (earth), or by someone’s learned desire to associate it with the Latin verb humare, “to bury.”

Here are examples of posthumous and posthumously used correctly on the Web:

Murdered NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were posthumously promoted to the rank of detective.

The posthumous birth of a child has been a common occurrence throughout human history, but now “posthumous conception” has become possible. The technology that permits parents to bank sperm and eggs for later use has created legal problems no one could have anticipated a few decades ago.

I did find this quotation in which the word posthumously is used in an unexpected way:

Novelist Nadine Gordimer told writer Christopher Hitchens that “A serious person should try to write posthumously.” Hitchens interpreted her unusual use of the word to mean to write as if the “usual constraints of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion—did not operate.”

Bottom line: Ordinarily, people who are still alive can’t do anything posthumously.

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