A nutty non-rule

From Ben Zimmer, a link to the Wichita Eagle Grammar Monkeys site, with a posting on “Nutty non-rules of grammar”, beginning:

Recently I [Lisa McLendon, who maintains the site] got a voice mail message from a reader saying that the verb “rise” could be used only with animate objects [that is, only with subjects denoting an animate thing], and thus our headline “Speed limit may rise to 75 mph” was incorrect, and it should have said “Speed limit may be raised to 75 mph.” Turning aside the issue of changing a perfectly good active-voice sentence to a wordier passive, I was intrigued, because I’d never run across this “rule” before. After all, bread rises. The sun rises. No one seems to complain about those.

Nor should they. OED3 (June 2010) has intransitive rise from the earliest English, and in fact the earliest cites (in Old English) are for uses with human subjects: getting out of bed after sleep or rest; returning to life, coming back from the dead; getting up from lying, sitting, or kneeling, standing up; returning to a morally upright and devout way of life. Starting in Middle English, uses develop with subjects denoting animals: rising themselves on their hind legs, coming out of or emerging from a lair or hiding places.

But around the same time some senses also develop figurative uses with inanimate subjects: ‘become erect or upright’ used of reed plants and pine trees, for instance; ‘get up, or back on one’s feet, after a fall’ used of abstract entities like pride, for instance. And in the 14th century a whole series of uses arise that occur mostly or entirely with inanimate subjects: wind, storms, etc. rising; rivers rising from sources; blisters, spots, etc. rising (forming or appearing) on the skin; faults, sorrows, dangers, etc. rising from or out of some source; sounds, noises, etc. rising from some source; rumors rising (coming into circulation) from some source; thoughts, questions, etc. rising; structures rising (being built); cults rising (coming into existence); the sun, moon, etc. rising; seas etc. rising (swelling up); dough etc. rising; liquid rising in a containing vessel; smoke etc. ascending into the air; banners etc. rising (moving or being carried to a higher position); roofs, hills, etc. having an upward slant or curve; voices or other noises rising in volume or pitch; and quantifiable factors or qualities rising by increasing in amount, number, or degree. Prices have been rising, in print at least, since at least the 16th century, and a search on {“prices rise”} nets many millions of raw ghits today. A search on {“speed limit rises”} nets over ten thousand.

I mention prices rising because I have a vague recollection of someone complaining about prices as the subject of rise — prices can increase or go up or be raised, but not rise, I was told — but I can’t find a record of this discussion and can’t reconstruct the reasoning behind the objection.

In any case, after coming up with bread rising and the sun rising, Grammar Monkeys turned to the bookshelf.

None of our dictionaries said anything about “rise” being restricted to animate subjects.

Our usage manuals cite “rise” in distinction to “raise,” the former intransitive and the latter transitive. But I saw no rules limiting “rise” to certain classes of subjects.

The “raise” entry in one book reminded me of another “rule” I’d run across: “Raise” is for crops or livestock, “rear” is for children. That one merited a mention in Garner’s, which said that “raise” is standard for children as well as farm commodities, and the phrase “born and reared” is “likely to sound affected” in American English.

After I posted the rise/animate issue on Twitter, grammar-book author June Casagrande replied, “That’s one of the nuttiest non-rules I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a lot.”

I’ve heard a lot, too, and it can be really tough to disabuse some folks of the notion that a particular grammatical point is “wrong” when they’ve labored under that pretense for years — or decades.

(Grammar Monkeys went on to list some other popular non-rules: don’t split infinitives or compound verbs; don’t end a sentence with a preposition; don’t start a sentence with a conjunction; cakes are “done,” but people are “finished”; don’t begin a sentence with the word “it”; don’t use the passive voice; paragraphs MUST have 5 sentences (topic, 3 support sentences, conclusion); sentences must have verbs. There are many other inventories of non-rules around; that’s a topic for another posting.)

If anyone has any insights into the animacy “rule” for rise, Grammar Monkeys, June Casagrande (at Conjugate Visits), Ben Zimmer, and I (and other linguabloggers, I’m sure) would like to hear about it.

7 Responses to “A nutty non-rule”

  1. Gabe Says:

    I don’t have any insight into rise in particular, but it brought to mind a Huffington Post grammar gripe I saw last year. That post suggested that animate subjects use shined and inanimate subjects use shone, and it was supposedly written by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary. That’s at least hitting on this idea of having certain verbs (or verb forms) for animate vs. inanimate subjects.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      What AHD4 says is subtler than this. It allows either shined or shone for intransitive SHINE and for transitive SHINE ‘to aim or cast the beam or glow of (a light)’ but only shined for transitive SHINE ‘to make glossy or bright by polishing’ — which is what you’d expect if the second transitive SHINE ‘give a shine to by polishing’ was in fact a verbing of the noun SHINE (that would be a very ordinary sort of regularization).

      • Gabe Says:

        That entry makes much more sense than the HuffPo’s version; I couldn’t believe that the AHD would have written it, but I didn’t have a hard copy to check. Thanks for the reference!

  2. Jan Freeman Says:

    This is the LL post I thought you must mean, but it’s yours! (On “rise” v. “increase”)

  3. Prices continue to rise « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] morning I puzzled over a report of a “rule” saying that the (intransitive) verb rise can occur only with […]

  4. mollymooly Says:

    The British “pay rise” (for American “raise”) is another counterexample.

    To my mind “raise” is more logical, since it’s your boss who raises your pay; it doesn’t rise of its own accord. I am sufficiently ignorant of the history to be unable to rule out the possibility that inanimate-“rise”-avoidance nudged an American transition to “raise”.

  5. Rick Sprague Says:

    I can imagine the Grammar Monkeys caller might reject “sunrise” in favor of “dawn” or “sunup” in their idiolect, but I just cannot believe they habitually wait for bread dough to “expand” or worry about the river level “being raised” without suffering bewildered looks from their interlocutors.

    Something tells me this non-rule may have originated in the belief that Christ rose ‘was resurrected’ from the dead. We wouldn’t want our miracles to be desanctified by comparison to a mass of hot air.

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