June is a time for shedding: masks, layers, obligations — and if you’re smart, prepositions. More often than you realize, you can eliminate a preposition to create a more concise sentence.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. These pedants don’t deserve to have fun going down the shore, and that stodgy hiring manager doesn’t deserve your talents now that you’ve just graduated college.
Did you catch it? Some people — job interviewers looking to trip you up, people who’ve never crossed the Delaware River — insist those seasonal phrases should be down to the shore and graduated from college.
Here’s why you’re right and they’re wrong.
Prepositions tend to be small but mighty. There are only about 150 of them, out of more than 170,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary. But 10 of the 25 most commonly used English words are prepositions, so we lean on them a lot.
Perhaps too much.
Down the shore is frequently marked as a Philly/New Jersey regionalism, though they say down the ocean in Baltimore, a city that’s basically Philadelphia in more ill-fitting clothing. People who see down only as an adverb or as something that happens in fours in football cry that down the shore needs a preposition like to or at in the middle.
But down is already a preposition — one you use regularly, as in, down the block.
Saying down to the shore would amount to a double preposition — something to avoid for brevity’s sake. You don’t need extra words getting in the way when there are Jersey waves to catch, tram cars to watch, Geators to heat.
June also brings out extremists who insist that one cannot graduate college; one must graduate from college. These people, though well-meaning, don’t understand the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.
That’s OK — hardly anyone does.
Transitive verbs transfer action to something else to work properly: kick a ball, hit a wall, throw a cat. Intransitive verbs are more independent: He walks, she runs, they dance. But plenty of verbs can be both intransitive (he drives) and transitive (she drives a car). Got it? Now you’re smarter than almost everyone.
Curiously, graduate has shifted between transitive and intransitive throughout history. From the verb’s origins in the 16th century, the transitive sense (I graduated college) dominated, while the intransitive (I graduated from college) was considered nonstandard. Then sometime in the 19th century, two weird things happened: Everywhere except the United States decided that they preferred the intransitive version, and some even embraced another form entirely, which said students themselves couldn’t graduate; rather, the school had to graduate the students. But the latter construction resulted in lots of terrible passive voice (they were graduated). And those who still say graduate needs a from are ignoring that in the U.S., all of the above are standard, dictionary-accepted uses.
Next time a hiring manager tsk-tsks you for saying you recently graduated college, inform them why they’re wrong. You don’t want to work for someone that closed-minded, and in the post-pandemic labor market, you can afford to be choosy.
Better yet, just walk out of that interview. Summers are better spent down the shore anyway.
The Angry Grammarian, otherwise known as Jeffrey Barg, looks at how language, grammar, and punctuation shape our world, and appears biweekly. Send comments, questions, and the Dolch word list to firstname.lastname@example.org.