Mind your language

Include me out of this grammatical atrocity

Mind Your Language on the correct use of ‘Including’

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

Just as, in writing, many people use an exclamation mark to indicate that they have made a joke, so there is much to be said for dressing up in special clothes before making a humorous speech. The best man at a wedding does that, and so, once upon a time, did the MPs chosen to propose and second ‘an humble address’ to the monarch after the King’s or Queen’s Speech at the opening of Parliament. They wore court dress with ruffles and stockings.

I’m not sure when this stopped. Someone will tell me. But it was in force when Frank Markham (who began as a Labour MP and ended as a knight of the shire sitting in the Conservative interest) seconded the motion in 1938. One of his ideas for a joke was to comment on American English. ‘I see,’ he told the House, ‘that in a recent American grammar that great phrase Sez you is now lifted to the dignity of “a doubtful affirmative”, while another phrase, Include me out, is defined as an “unqualified negative”.’ Perhaps soon, he suggested, they would label the Aye Lobby the Sez You Lobby and the other the Include Me Out Lobby. Ho, ho.


The phrase include me out is associated with the film producer Sam Goldwyn. But a common use of including gives me daily pain, however I’m dressed. Including should (by the laws of English) be followed by a noun or a noun phrase, for example: ‘true bugs, including aphids and scale insects’. What gives me pain is the use of including before a prepositional phrase (‘Look everywhere, including under the bed’) or an adverbial phrase (‘kinds of yeast, including for making bread’). I am not saying such uses are immoral. I’m just saying they aren’t English. It’s like moving a rook diagonally in chess.

Whether or not education ministers can distinguish parts of speech when ambushed on the radio, it is handy to have the terminology available to explain what is wrong grammatically with a construction that sounds wrong. Sounding wrong is a result of one’s inbuilt grammatical compass pointing out a deviation in one’s native tongue. To discover errors in a language learnt later requires explicit grammatical principles.

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  • davidofkent

    The Americans use adjectives in place of adverbs. It is done not because the speakers are humorous or clever, but because they are ignorant. As you would now expect, it is catching on over here.

    • Icebow

      But at least they correctly use the –ize termination in many verbs where, thanks perhaps to the subliteracy of sub-editors, the British now usually use –ise.

      • None of the above

        According to Oxford Dictionaries, “[m]any verbs that end in -ize can also end in -ise: both endings are correct in British English”. Etymologically, it depends upon whether one considers as normative the Greek ending -ιζειν or the French form -iser.

        • Icebow

          The French is irrelevant, or an excuse, and should be so regarded. -ιζειν or Latin –izare.

          • None of the above

            As a classicist, I instinctively wish to agree. But the “-ise/-ize” verbs have almost invariably come into English via Norman French. Hardly an irrelevance.

          • Icebow

            I refer you to Fowler, to whom I defer.

          • None of the above

            “The primary rule is that all words of the type authorize/authorise, civilize/civilise, legalize/legalise may legitimately be spelt with either -ize or -ise throughout the English-speaking world, except in America, where -ize is compulsory” (Fowler, 3rd ed.)

  • M P Jones

    For a few hours of amusing and informative entertainment read Strictly English by Simon Heffer: an excellent book written with great wit and insight.

  • Icebow

    Ay lobby, O expert! Aye means ‘always’.

    • None of the above

      Either spelling can have either meaning. But the predominant usage is the opposite of what you assert.

      • Icebow

        Predominant usage defied.

  • newname

    I am a native and, I hope, grammatically correct, English speaker and I find that “Look everywhere, including under the bed” sounds perfectly natural. It may flout a grammarian’s rule but how else can you convey this idea in such a concise, clear and in my opinion inoffensive way, unlike usages such as “between you and I” which do indeed cause pain.

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