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11 September 2012

Trespassing — grammar with a legal implication

Our Margaret Austin noted a crime against language on the front page our newspaper the other day. Its story ‘Dirty Tactics in Grocery War’ contains the following misuse of the verb to trespass:

‘He trespassed two people yesterday’. 

The grammar stuff

‘Trespass’ is an intransitive verb meaning ‘to commit a trespass’— and an intransitive verb cannot have an object.

You cannot trespass someone from your supermarket. You can issue a trespass notice against them entering your supermarket — and if they set foot inside it, you’d say they were trespassing your property. But if you want them to stay outside, you cannot ‘trespass them’.

Legal implications

A similar crime was committed by journalists who said that Stuart Wilson had been trespassed from the Whanganui’s public spaces. You can’t trespass anyone from anything either.

Margaret notes that, if Wilson’s lawyer decided to take a grammatical stand in the debate about where his client is and is not allowed in Whanganui, Wilson could win freedom of movement in the city’s parks and domains.

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