Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Law review: editors won't split verb phrases

Professor Jonathan R. Siegel of George Washington University School of Law has written an article in the Journal of Legal Education called A Short Note on the Placement of Adverbs. It's fascinating.*

He asserts that many law reviews follow a grammatical convention that prohibits inserting an adverb between the parts of a verb phrase.

So when most us of us would write--
  • A court might even have to impose a structural injunction.
the law review editors insist on--
  • A court even might have to impose a structural injunction.
See 56 J. Leg. Educ. at 62. He gives numerous other examples, many of them equally silly.

Professor Siegel points out the lack of authority for this supposed rule of grammar and even cites one expert (H.W. Fowler) who insists that the actual rule is to place the adverb inside the verb phrase. He guesses that this false rule arose by analogy to the supposed rule against splitting infinitives. Id. at 63-67.

It's a cogent and well written little essay. His thoughts bring to mind my favorite take on student law-review editors, Bryan Garner's:
    [L]egally trained young men and women are called upon to be professional editors when not one in fifty has a background suitable to the task.
A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (2d) at 507.

I was not on law review, so I know I must sound unnecessarily critical and therefore bitter. Perhaps it's true. But tomorrow I'll share the results of a student's survey of law-review students before and after their experience, and perhaps my lack of law-review experience will be seen as a strength.

*If by "fascinating" you mean "nerdy beyond all reason."

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