Recently I got a voice mail message from a reader saying that the verb “rise” could be used only with animate subjects, and thus our headline “Speed limit may rise to 75 mph” was incorrect, and it should have said “Speed limit may be raised to 75 mph.” Turning aside the issue of changing a perfectly good active-voice sentence to a wordier passive, I was intrigued, because I’d never run across this “rule” before. After all, bread rises. The sun rises. No one seems to complain about those. So I turned to the bookshelf.
None of our dictionaries said anything about “rise” being restricted to animate subjects.
Our usage manuals cite “rise” in distinction to “raise,” the former intransitive and the latter transitive. But I saw no rules limiting “rise” to certain classes of subjects.
The “raise” entry in one book reminded me of another “rule” I’d run across: “Raise” is for crops or livestock, “rear” is for children. That one merited a mention in Garner’s, which said that “raise” is standard for children as well as farm commodities, and the phrase “born and reared” is “likely to sound affected” in American English.
After I posted the rise/animate issue on Twitter, grammar-book author June Casagrande replied, “That’s one of the nuttiest non-rules I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a lot.”
I’ve heard a lot, too, and it can be really tough to disabuse some folks of the notion that a particular grammatical point is “wrong” when they’ve labored under that pretense for years — or decades. But let’s try.
For the record, these are NOT legitimate rules of English usage: