Sunday 12 October 2008

On ending inconclusive(ly)

A correspondent writes to ask about the sentence The meeting ended inconclusive, which he says he has seen in newspaper report headlines. He also points to Christoph Loreck's book Endymion and the Labyrinthian Path to Eminence in Art, which contains the sentence The foreword ends inconclusive. But 'should this be inconclusively?', he asks.

Standard English usage after end is adverbial, so it would normally be inconclusively. I've seen the adjective used in news reports too - a Google search suggests that these are mainly from South Asian publications, so it might be a feature of Indian English. Replacing an adverb by an adjective is also a common interference pattern from some other languages. A German-speaking character in the film The Third Man advises Holly Martins to 'go careful' in Vienna. Perhaps this is the source of Loreck's preference, for he is German. And the vacillation turns up in some English dialects as well, for all kinds of reasons, and these will gradually influence informal standard English. For instance, ease of articulation motivates they lived happy ever after instead of the standard they lived happily ever after.

Why has the adjectival usage arisen at all? One possibility is ellipsis: the speaker is thinking of the sentence as short for something like 'The meeting ended with everyone inconclusive'. But I think it more likely that the verb is being influenced by the very similar verb end up, which readily takes an adjective: We ended up happy. The similarity in meaning can be seen from such examples as The day started sad and ended sad and I didn't know whether to be happy because the series ended happy or to be sad because the series ended. It's all very interesting, albeit somewhat inconclusive.


Anonymous said...

Could this also be related to a more general tendency to use adjectives in traditional adverb positions, e.g. 'the boy done good', which many prescriptivists complain about and which I've always thought partly influenced by the fact that adjectives after some verbs are sometimes OK even for traditionalists, e.g. 'he arrived happy' where the adjective describes the state of the subject of the verb rather than how they performed the action.


DC said...

That's a good point. Our intuitions about these things are bound to be affected by analogous usages, and the adj/adv issue has certainly attracted a lot of attention, as you say.

The Editor said...

I think Billy is on the right track. We can see it as a predicative adjective, parallel in use to 'Open your mouth wide' or 'Shut the door tight'


Anonymous said...

The German usage you mention relating to not distinguishing between adjectives and adverbs is probably related to their first language. In German, all adjectives and adverbs are identical, and as such when speaking English they will often use adjectives in the place of adverbs. This sort of transfer can also be seen in the lack of differentiation between lend/borrow and teach/learn, where in German both words exist, but are used synonymously.

Nick Barnes said...

Consider "I woke up happy". This means something very different from "I woke up happily". The adverb modifies the verb, the adjective modifies the noun (which is the verb's object).

A meeting can end quite conclusively, that is: the ending of the meeting can be a conclusive ending, but if the meeting itself was not conclusive (of the matter which was the subject of the meeting) then the meeting might end inconclusive. For instance, a meeting which ends with the chair saying in a decisive manner "Right, we must wind this meeting up now, let's meet again next Wednesday to see how the situation has developed".
Caveat: I know nothing about grammar or stylistics.

deej said...

I found this very interesting considering I recently received Dianna Booher's "Communication Tip of the Month" which railed against leaving off the -ly.

Although I suppose that forum leads itself much more to "rules" rather than discussions of linguistics and the possible reasons for such "misuse".