What Jenna said that Victoria never would have

The real Victoria would never have said ‘Do make sure Palmerston is sat at the other end of the table’, as Jenna Coleman did in a recent episode of ‘Victoria’. She would almost certainly have said ‘sitting’, not ‘sat’. (Or possibly ‘seated’).

Even on BBC Radio Four

Millions of us say sat instead of sitting every day. For those of us of a certain age…. it’s a ‘mistake’ if you say I’d rather be sat at home ordering a Chinese.  (Heard on The Now Show recently.)

To us, or at least to me, it should be sittingI’d rather be sitting at home ordering a Chinese.

The verb sit can be used in either of two ways – with an object or without an object.

Scary language alert!

The verb sit can be either ‘intransitive’, as in The children were sitting in the back of the car. There is no object in with an intransitive verb.

But sit can sometimes be ‘transitive’, as in We sat the children in the back of the car. Here the children are the object of the verb ‘to sit’. The object means the people, person or thing(s) affected by the action of the verb. Someone has made the children sit in the back of the car.

The grammarless generations

For many years, formal grammar – the use of terms such as ‘transitive’, ‘intransitive’ and ‘object’ – was not taught in schools in the UK. Grammatical analysis was regarded as unnecessary, even as an obstacle to self expression and creativity.

Grammar is hard

I have tried on numerous occasions to explain what a transitive verb is and what an intransitive verb is, and it is hard to make the difference clear to people who were never taught grammatical terms at school.

Stand versus stood

Another verb like sit is stand. You usually hear things like He was stood at the end of the street. Yes, I think it should be He was standing at the end of the street. And for the same reason. The verb stand can be intransitive or transitive. The sentence describes a continuous action, and there is an –ing form (the present continuous or progressive form) of the verb, so using standing instead of stood should make sense. Except to millions of us, somehow it doesn’t.

All is not lost. Gove is at hand.

Michael Gove oversaw a major overhaul of how English is taught in schools when he was Secretary of State for Education. So we now have schoolchildren as young as 8 being taught (as a statutory requirement) grammatical concepts such as ‘fronted adverbials’ and ‘determiners’.

The government website example of a fronted adverbial is Later that day, I heard the bad news.  It’s all about the comma.  In the sentence I heard the bad news later that day – the adverbial phrase later that day comes at the end (i.e. it is not ‘fronted’) so no need for a comma.

Determiners are words such as a, the, this, those, my, mine, some and every.

I wonder whether Queen Victoria would have been amused ….

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