Have You Graduated From Grammar School?
It’s getting close to college application time, and students across the country are preparing their statements of purpose and letters of recommendation. It’s a good time to talk about one specific grammatical problem, and one of my personal pet peeves.
Look at the following two sentences:
- I graduated Harbor High School in 2005
- I graduated from Harbor High School in 2005
Which one is correct? I’ll give you a moment.
It’s the second one—“graduated from” is always correct in this context. Omitting the “from” changes the meaning of the sentence entirely. This matters, especially if you’re applying to an English, writing or literature program—while the error might slip through in some of the harder sciences, anyone who spends a lot of time writing is going to catch this, and it will hurt your application.
See, “to graduate” can be either a transitive or intransitive verb. Transitive verbs are action verbs that have some sort of object to receive the action—like “I hit the ball”. You need “the ball” to make the sentence work; “I hit” doesn’t make any sense. Intransitive verbs do not have an object receiving the action—like “I laughed” or “I walked to the park”.
In the sentence “I graduated from high school”, you’re using “to graduate” as an intransitive verb. All “from high school” is is a prepositional phrase telling us where you graduated from; it’s not necessary information to make the sentence work. When you say “I graduated from high school”, the meaning is that you received your diploma, and high school is where you received it.
In the sentence “I graduated high school”, without the “from”, you’re suddenly using graduate as a transitive verb. That means “high school” is suddenly the object of the verb; it’s supposed to be something you do to the object. This would mean that you gave your high school an academic degree; that you’re declaring that your high school has met your standards and is ready to move up, becoming a university or something. You did many things at your high school, but you never graduated it. You graduated from it.
It may seem like a nit-picky point of grammar to some, but this one actually matters. When a verb can be either transitive or intransitive, not using it properly can cause confusion. If I say “I tripped, Sam”, I would be telling Sam that I tripped and fell. If I say “I tripped Sam”, I’m bragging about how I knocked Sam to the floor. Using the verb incorrectly can alter what you’re trying to say, and while sometimes it can be figured out from context, sometimes it can’t. So, say you graduated from high school, and save yourself a potential headache down the line.
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