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Can You "Graduate College"? (Grammar Lesson)

Categories: Grammar.

Q: I love the English language and hope to master it some day, but I need help with the word “graduate.” I hear people say (and see them write) “I graduated high school.” This doesn’t sound right to me. Would it be more appropriate to say “I graduated from high school”?–Brent M.

A: You can’t “graduate college” anymore than you can “go college” or “arrive college.” In this instance, the verb “to graduate” is acting as an intransitive verb, and intransitive verbs cannot take on an object.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Uh oh, he’s breaking out words like intransitive and object, and when I hear words like that my brain explodes. Not to worry, my friend. Let’s deconstruct this in a way that will keep your brain intact.

To say “I graduated” is akin to saying “I slept.” Both are perfectly sound (albeit short) sentences using intransitive verbs. So to say “I graduated college” would be akin to saying “I slept my bed”—and hearing that would make my brain explode. If you want to clarify where you slept, you need a prepositional phrase: “I slept in my bed.” Likewise, your graduation statement also needs a prepositional phrase: “I graduated from college.”

Another way to think about it is to swap out the noun “college” with anther noun, like “Harvard.” You wouldn’t say, “I graduated Harvard” would you? (If you did, you may showcase the fact that you didn’t actually graduate from Harvard.)

Just because many people are using it incorrectly doesn’t mean you should. Be a leader and set others straight.

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