for free

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for free

Post by Archived Topic » Fri May 28, 2004 12:15 am

When I went to school (not recently), to say “for free” was a no-no. When you did hear it said intentionally from someone who was literate, it was meant as a joke. In recent years, I’ve been seeing it in print and out of the mouths of news anchors and some otherwise respectable people and not in a jocular manner as with slang or a colloquialism. The problem my English teachers had with it and which I still do, is that in “for free,” free would be the object of a preposition. However, free is an adjective (a free ticket) or an adverb (children are admitted free) so it can’t legally be the object of a preposition – that’s reserved for nouns. So how did this happen and is it now considered acceptable usage in polite society? I’m still having trouble handling “I feel good.” Is this the same sort of thing – another “grin and bear it” item – in what appears to be the “dumbing down” of the English language?

Ken G - March 4, 2002
Submitted by Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 12:29 am

What are popularly known as the 'rules of grammar' are often broken. Logic in language and analogies both tend to break down when pushed too far, and there really isn't any point in getting upset about that fact. After all, rules are made to be broken, and our language is often the richer for it.

To my knowledge, there is no social stigma in Britain attached to saying 'for free'. In fact I think it's a useful way of emphasising the gratis nature of whatever is being referred to. Sometimes an extra syllable is useful that way.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 12:44 am

Actually, Ken, "I feel good" is grammatically correct. As I recall, the "emotion" verbs (I'm sure that's not the proper term, but I mean verbs like "feel" and "seem") don't take adverbs; they take only predicate adjectives. In that respect, they are treated the same as "to be." Therefore, when someone says, "I feel badly," it really should be "I feel bad." Knowing that, though, I still cringe when I hear someone say "I feel good." It just doesn't SOUND right, even though it is.

To add to the confusion, the word "well," which is usually used as an adverb, is often used as an adjective. My dictionary actually lists it as an adjective, when used to mean "in good health." Therefore, "I feel well" is equally correct.

It just goes to show that most grammar rules are not etched in stone. They change as our language changes. That's what makes English alive: it is constantly changing. We probably wouldn't have it any other way.
Reply from K Allen Griffy (Springfield, IL - U.S.A.)
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 12:58 am

Of course, K Allen, the person might "feel badly" because they've burned their fingertips and really are having trouble feeling things. ;)

Lois Martin, Birmingham, AL
March 4, 2002
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 1:13 am

Thanks Erik and Allen. I guess my problem is that I am trying to treat grammar the same way I would treat math (axiom, theorem, proof, true, false, …) or a “hard” science whereas grammar and English usage are works in progress with no absolutes (although the longer you spend in science the less absolute you realize it is). I learned what I thought were some rules of grammar a while back and assumed they still held. I realized that new words and usages were being added all the time, but I guess I thought my old “rules” of grammar still held (e.g. object of a preposition had to be a noun, good was an adjective not to be used as an adverb). But actually since language is not etched in stone, as you say, and is constantly evolving, they could have been prejudices of the times, of the region, of my teachers (on well and good, I am now sure this was the case), or of the guy who wrote a particular grammar book. The only difficulty is, if you want to use “generally acceptable English,” you have to keep checking on what is generally acceptable (if this can even be generalized, for you’re looking at a moving target) or you’re going to end up like me thinking that “for free” (once upon a time an object of derision, at least in what was my corner of the world), is a dreadful thing to say.

Ken G - March 5, 2002
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 1:27 am

Don't feel bad, Ken. Even though I know English is an ever-evolving language, I, too, like to stick to the "old rules." I still insist on putting commas after every item in a series (except the last), even though it is now "acceptable" to omit the comma just before the "and." I really have to bite my tongue when confronted with some of what passes for grammatically correct these days. That's why I like this site. I feel that some of us regulars here in WooWooLand are the last bastions of "proper" English--it's nice to converse with others who know the difference between "its" and "it's" (and who know there is no such word as "its'"!).

And you're right, Lois. Someone in that case COULD "feel badly." *G* That reminds me of another grammatically incorrect sentence that could be correct in certain situations. When someone says they are going to "lay down on the sofa," I wonder why anyone would put duck feathers on the sofa! *G* Most people don't understand when I ask, though--I can't imagine why!
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 1:41 am

There's a set phrase in English about feeling badly which does not require the incineration of one's fingertips. You might say "I feel badly about it" when referring to some unfortunate situation, especially if you are partly to blame for its existence.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 1:56 am

But, Erik, I think that takes us back to the original problem. The verb "feel" doesn't take an adverb, so I think (I could be wrong) that it should be "I feel bad about it." If you were really upset about the situation, you might say "I feel TERRIBLE (or awful) about it," not "I feel TERRIBLY (or awfully) about it."

Does anyone know for certain what (if any) the rule is or whether there are exceptions to the alleged rule? Any help anyone can give us would be great(ly) appreciated! *G*
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 2:10 am

I'm beginning to think that it might be appropriate to consult with a shrink who deals with obsessive/compulsive disorders. I feel badly for saying such a thing, but my input was for free and you know the value of what you get for free! *G*

Leif
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 2:25 am

I understand the logic of your point, K A, but the fact remains that logic does not reign supreme in this realm. Language was not invented by grammarians, nor are they its owners.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 2:39 am

Logic, schmogic! Who needs logic, anyway? If we wanted to speak logically, we'd all have to learn Vulcan rather than English! *G*
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 2:53 am

Boy, this is getting complicated and I’m loosing track of who said what. But I think I agree with Erik that logic has nothing to do with it and that rules and/or “accepted usage” will decide in the end (as in “for free”) if one can only figure out what “accepted usage” is. I don’t like it (agree with Allen), but if “feeling badly about it” is an accepted usage (about which I couldn’t find any info), than it wouldn’t make any difference that “feeling badly” is wrong according to the so-called rules (whatever they are) – this is beginning to sound like lawyerese and vaguely familiar (“depends on what the definition of is, is”).

According to Woe Is I, The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner (1996), editor of the New York Times Book Review: “When it’s an activity being described, use badly, the adverb. When it’s a condition or a passive state described, use bad, the adjective. ‘Ollie ran the race badly; afterward, he looked bad and he smelled bad’. If the difference still eludes you, try mentally substituting a pair of words less likely to be confused: ‘Ollie ran the race honestly; afterward, he looked honest and smelled honest’. The same logic applies for well and good. When its an activity being described, use well, the adverb. When it’s a condition on a passive state being described, use good, the adjective. ‘Stan sang well; at the recital he looked good and he sounded good.’ [Oh, now I get it. “I feel good” is correct for non-tactile, agreeing with Allen, Lois, … but wait…]. Note: There’s a complication with well. It’s a two-faced word that can be an adjective as well as an adverb. As an adjective, it means healthy (Ollie feels well).” [Oh, now I get it. It’s “I feel well! Huh?”]

Word Court by Barbara Wallraff (2000), editor of the Atlantic Monthly basically says many of the same things in a section on copulative verbs. Her comment on ‘I feel badly:’ “This sentence, then, does have to do with a deficient tactile sense.” On feeling good or well she says, ‘‘‘I feel well’ is a perfectly good way to describe your state of health. [Oh, now I get it. It’s I feel well!]. ‘I feel good’ would also work well – although it is perhaps more descriptive of a mental state.” [Oh, I’ve got it now. Huh?]

Finally, Deciding Usage by J. Stephen Sherwin Professor of English (Emeritus), State University of New York (2000), says much the same as the above specifically identifying some the passive state verbs as taste, feel, look, smell, be, and seem. Furthermore, “The use of good and well as adjectives after ‘feel’ is standard, but there is a difference in meaning. I ‘feel good’ is a statement about the positive condition of the body and possibly the spirit, but ‘I feel well’ is simply a positive way of saying that one is not physically ill.” [Oh, now I get it. This must be correct – it sounds so authoritative.]

Now let me see, when you asked me how I was feeling, were you talking about my body and spirit, my mental state, my general state of health (sir, was that mental or physical health you meant), or if I was possibly feeling physically ill? You better specify this unambiguously. Now wait a minute while I consult my 17 grammar books so I can answer you “correctly.”

So, with all of this erudition and clarification, which would you say if you felt better than O.K.(finger tips aside), “I feel good or I feel well.” Hey, I wouldn’t bet the farm any of this stuff, but I think (maybe) I’m slightly less confused (on several other points) than before I started.

Ken G - March 7, 2002
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 3:08 am

Just to throw a few more balls in the air, after Ken's posting above I feel impelled to comment on a usage of 'good' that I've only come across in the USA. A typical dialogue follows (optional elements are enclosed in square brackets):

- "Hey, how [are] ya doin'!"

- "I'm [doing] good!" - OR - "Good!"

British version:

- "Hello, how are you?"

- "[I'm] very well, [thanks]!" - OR - "Fine, [thanks]!"

I've noticed that in the USA almost nobody answers "Fine!" or "Well" to an inquiry about their state of health; equally, no Briton will answer "Good!" to the same inquiry.

I remember it once being suggested by someone or other that the American usage of 'good' has been influenced by the German 'gut', which means both 'well' and 'good', and was introduced into the USA by German-speaking immigrants.
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 3:22 am

After reading Ken's latest posting, I think there can be only one absolutely correct response to "How are you?" To make a grammatically correct response, simply reply, "I am alive" and leave it at that!!!! *G*
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Post by Archived Reply » Fri May 28, 2004 3:37 am

You've got it Allen - I knew there had to be a solution.

Ken G - March 10, 2002
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