If You Can Say “Graduated College,” Can You Say “Graduated Harvard”?
Posted by Neal on May 31, 2011
Over at Visual Thesaurus, my latest column is on the annual (or at least, annually relevant) arguments over whether it’s grammatical to say that someone “graduated college” or “graduated high school” (or even “graduated elementary school”), instead of “graduated from college/high school,” etc. I talk about the different versions of graduate that take different combinations of direct objects and prepositional phrases, and put them in a larger context of verbal diathesis alternations. My columns are usually behind a paywall there, so if you don’t have a membership, you have several options. One, of course, is to get a membership for something like $20, which you might find worth it just for the articles alone, by Ben Zimmer, Nancy Friedman, Mark Peters, Stan Carey, and others. Another, of course, is not to bother reading the column. But now there’s a third option: Wait three months and then go to the Vocabulary.com magazine. There you can find the formerly premium content that is more than three months old.
Anyway, here’s a detail that didn’t make it into the VT column. For me, although graduate from college/high school is the normal phrasing, graduate college/high school is not too bad. However, once you put in the name of a particular school, you can’t drop the preposition. So to my ears, graduated college is a little sloppy but OK, whereas graduated the University of Texas is out. I asked my followers on Twitter what they thought, and got a couple of responses that agreed with me, but as I thought more about it, I began to wonder if speakers would say graduate plus a school name after all. Here’s what I found in a small search in COCA:
- graduate from Harvard vs. graduate Harvard: 115 to 1
The one example of graduate Harvard was I guess my middle-schoolers would be graduating Harvard this year if the bumblers at their school had know [sic] about this smaller class size.
- graduate from (the) Ohio State University vs. graduate (the) Ohio State University: 5 to 0
- graduate from Stanford vs. graduate Stanford: 40 to 2
The two: I graduated Stanford, and I’m also a member of the Horror Writers Association, and Lives in Palo Alto, Calif, and graduated Stanford in’ 98 with a political science degree.
Feel free to try this with other school names, and report in the comments!
One of the Twitter respondents was L. Michelle Baker, who goes by the handle of corpwritingpro. After her first tweet (which stated that from was customary before the school name), she surprised me with this one:
Wow! A professional writer was not simply dismissing graduate high school, nor even grudgingly accepting it in informal contexts, but actually granting it fully standard status, complete with a semantic distinction between graduate high school and graduate from high school. Furthermore, the part about describing an accomplishment is precisely what I found in Beth Levin’s English Verb Classes and Alternations as the difference between, for example, walked on the grounds and walked the grounds, or escaped from New York and escaped New York. I’m confused by how graduating from high school denotes less of an accomplishment than graduating high school, but maybe the fact that speakers look upon graduation as an accomplishment is what’s driving the loss of the preposition. Have any other readers noticed, or developed in your own usage, a semantic distinction between graduate from X and graduate X? And does it matter whether X is a common noun like college or high school, or a proper noun naming the institution?