December 06, 2007

You Of Broken My Heart

Let us consider the phrase:
Please take your receipt when it's completed printing.
Here the "it's" contraction – which generally stands in for "it is" – has in fact taken the place of "it has", which in print it looks a little odd, but in speech is basically acceptable. Still, if you were going to expand the phrase fully, the grammatically correct sentence would be:
Please take your receipt when it has completed printing.
Unfortunately, someone at CVS didn't get the memo, and when I used their self-service checkout last night the friendly recorded voice said to me:
Please take your receipt when it is completed printing.
Now, it's a well-known fact that I strive to be a pompous authoritarian when it comes to correct usage, but even I would forgive this mistake if it appeared in print. This, though, was a spoken command! Countless people must have listened to this before it made it to the CVS in Central Square! And not a single one heard it and thought: "Gee, that doesn't sound quite right"?! What is the world coming to?

PS. Next semester I am taking a copyediting class, so if you don't enjoy my rants on grammar you may as well stop reading now.

3 comments:

Gil said...

Uh oh, descriptivist coming through...

Here is something that is totally acceptable to say/write:

...when it is done printing.

Now, 'done' and 'completed' are fairly synonymous. And in that respect, it would not be totally weird for me to see or hear

...when it is completed printing.

Get off your high prescriptivist horse.

Andrew said...

You know, I had a feeling that someone with a linguistics background would try and argue this one with me, so I prepared a rebuttal in advance.

Yes, you can say "when it is done printing" (or "when it is finished printing") and these sound correct – because they are. In these sentences "done" and "finished" are acting as adjectives, which you can see because the sentences still make sense without them ("when it is printing"). You can also say "when it has finished printing", but in this sentence "finished" is a participle – "when it has printing" makes no sense without it. (Ditto for "when it has done printing".)

Since "completed" is only a participle (the adjective is "complete"), it needs to come with "has".

Not even saddle sores will get me off my high horse.

Gil said...

Now now, my dear prescriptivist friend, there are still flaws in your argument.

"Complete" is an adjective, but not a synonymous one to "done" or "finished". "Complete" means something like 'whole' or 'entire', whereas "completed", a perfectly fine adjective (i.e. "the completed paper) , is synonymous with "done" and "finished". Therefore, like its synonymous adjectival brethren, it does not require "has" and is grammatical as is.

Granted, "is completed printing" does have a funny tinge to it, but such is the nature of grammaticality: not everything is perfect. However, it by no means so far off base (nor is it even wrong) to warrant a hotscot rant.

So take your re-butthole and your damn horse and get off it.

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