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Wundergrammar: Auxilaration!
Thursday, August 23, 2007   9:06 PM

A doozie of a usage quirk, this time from a mystery shopper in California. With only a few exceptions, this writer forms all past tense sentences thusly:

[Actor] was [adjective] to [action] .

I spotted three variations of this pattern. The most common was able to:

When we first arrived at the table, Cari was able to smile and make eye contact.

Followed closely by sure to:

Nicolai was sure to initiate our interaction with a friendly "Sir, I can help you over here if you are ready."

Finally, about once per page, this writer used kind enough to. This particular example is a double-whammy:

After Teresa was sure to answer my question, she was kind enough to ask if there was anything else that we needed before we ended our encounter.

While this is probably the most extreme case that I've seen, about once a week I edit a mystery shopper who overuses did to form the past tense. (Which adds an odd, contrarian emphasis to sentences like "He did thank me.")

I'm starting to dislike did.

Proper linguistics terminology notwithstanding, I've decided to call this profusion of over-verbed sentences auxilaration. Or possibly auxilaration!, with an exclamation mark like Jenny! from Wayside School.

From the editing side it looks lazy, like the writer just couldn't be bothered to conjugate those other verbs. Really though, it was more work for the writer to do things this way — and since the entire narrative has to be written in the past tense, it's considerably more work for me. Although most of these sentences are grammatical, when you have so many of them together it quickly becomes ridiculous. And the able to variation has its own problems.

So why do this? The auxilarated shoppers tend to be fairly competent as amateur writers go, and they don't seem to have any problems correctly conjugating the verbs that do slip through. Nor is this one of those cases where the structure of the survey question is influencing the structure of the answer.

What then? Overcorrection? Some sort of folk grammar? Perverse stylistic preferences? Bad advice from an ill-informed pedant? I have no way to know.

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