Grammar Moses: Did your mama raise you right?

Several questions arose while my wife and I were driving to a place that would surely serve us Italian bread: Does bread raise or does it rise? Does the baker raise the dough or rise it? What the heck is a transitive verb?

Questions like these constitute about 85% of our conversations.

So today we'll take a look at "raise" and "rise" and their various usages and homophones.

Let's start with the issue of bread.

Although I've heard it expressed both ways bread indeed "rises." I often supplement my research by plugging words and phrases into Google's Ngram Viewer, which tracks usage in books published in the United States.

I compared "the bread rises" to "the bread raises," and what I got was interesting.

In 1820 - the farthest back Google's data goes - "the bread raises" was the standard phrase. I don't know what happened before that, but that is the last time - until the mid-1920s - that "raises" dominated.

The last time "raises" showed any sign of life in formal writing was in the 1970s.

Argument settled.

So, what of the baker?

A baker conveys an action upon the dough by adding yeast to it. The yeast organisms, like a herd of hungry, hungry hippos, eat the sugar and belch out carbon dioxide, which creates bubbles in the dough, causing the dough to rise.

The baker needs yeast and a transitive verb - "raise" - to create a satisfactory loaf, but the dough itself rises (an intransitive verb).

What's similar among raising a blob of bread dough, raising a family and raising someone's pay is that you're literally or figuratively bringing something to a higher level.

One can be a parent but still not raise a child if one does not contribute to its growth or maturation.

There are sticklers who hold on to the notion that one "raises" vegetables and livestock but one "rears" kids. These are probably the same people who wag a gnarled finger when someone says, "I have three kids" by retorting, "I didn't know you were allowed to raise goats in the suburbs."

You know who you are.

While "raise" and "raze" are homophones, they are antonyms.

You can collect a group of strapping friends and "raise" a barn, but it takes only one person and a backhoe to "raze" it.

Taken aback

I was reading a sweet story about a park ranger who left an old nightstand in various San Francisco parks with a sign that reads: "Take a poem, leave a poem."

At the story's writing, more than 100 poems had been shared.

Ranger Amanda Barrows told The Washington Post, "I'm really taken aback by the outpouring of support."


Perhaps it's that I am so accustomed to hearing of people being taken aback by such things as opening their tax bills, being affronted by rude people and hearing of their children's unfathomable career and matrimonial decisions that I'd nearly forgotten it's not always bad.

To be taken aback, one is merely taken by surprise.

You can just as easily be taken aback when Santa gives you exactly what you wished for or the price of gas drops below $3 a gallon.

I tend to be a glass-half-full guy, so I don't know why my default to that idiom is negative.

You might hear someone say, "I was taken back."

That's something entirely different. Generally it suggests someone is being nostalgic - transported to an earlier time.

But in the case of your Uncle Steve, it could mean he failed to meet the conditions of his parole.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at grammar Write him at and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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