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A Word, Please: Open yourself up to grammar

March 29, 2013|By June Casagrande

A reader named Roy sent me an e-mail recently. He had a question – not for himself but for a friend. And, heaven help me, I really believe it was for a friend. Here's what Roy wrote:

"Dear June, I have a friend who is bothered by the difference between the use of 'open' and 'opened' when a person has left the room. My friend wants to know the answer, but is reluctant to write to you for fear of making a grammatical error.

"An example … 'When I left the room, the door was left open.' Or should it be, 'When I left the room, the door was left opened'? The reason for the conundrum in my friend's mind is that you can't leave the room with the door 'close.'"

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Well, Roy, your friend was right to cower in terror at my ogre-like powers of withering linguistic judgment. As someone who never makes mistakes, and as someone who accepts only professionally edited, error-free emails, I probably would have ended up chasing him through the streets trying to stab him with a red pen.

But seriously, folks. The unfortunate thing here, aside from the image of me as a slobbering monster with fangs and an overbite, is that someone thinks his errors would stand out.

On the contrary, the feeling of being singularly and shamefully inadequate in the grammar department is more like an epidemic. It seems everyone I talk to has an irrational fear that they somehow missed a lesson everyone else got and that they must, at all costs, conceal their ignorance from the grammar-enlightened masses.

The truth is, if you feel you're all alone in this realm, that's your guarantee that you're not alone.

Let's consider our anonymous friend's question: Because you can refer to "a closed door," you can also use the term "an opened door." So far, so good. But can we extend that to the forms without the D ending? Setting aside the form of "close" that rhymes with "dose" and means "nearby" (which is essentially a different word), it's true you can't really have a "close door." So does that mean you can't have an "open door"?

No. In fact, both open and opened can modify the noun "door," even though their corresponding antonyms may not work the same way.

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