Prescription or practice?
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 “rules” in his own grammar. The study shows that Priestley’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 Rydén & Brorström (1987). It is also shown that when compared to his grammar, Priestley’s usage upholds his reputation as an early descriptivist.