Prescription or practice?

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This paper investigates variation in the usage of <i>be</i> and <i>have</i> with participles of mutative intransitive verbs by the Late Modern English grammarian Joseph Priestley. His usage, as exemplified by a corpus compiled from his private manuscript letters, is compared with a reference corpus and with the &#8220;rules&#8221; in his own grammar. The study shows that Priestley&#8217;s usage reflects the general change for this linguistic feature from a predominant use of <i>be</i> to a greater occurrence of <i>have</i> in the late eighteenth century, as discussed by Ryd&#233;n &amp; Brorstr&#246;m (1987). It is also shown that when compared to his grammar, Priestley&#8217;s usage upholds his reputation as an early descriptivist.


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