"conceive (of)"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Tue Dec 9 16:54:02 UTC 2008

At 5:24 PM -0500 12/8/08, Wilson Gray wrote:

> The OED, as quoted by Mark M.:
> " ... now _conceived_ as a desolate, barren region, waterless and
> treeless, and with but scanty growth of herbage ..."
> IMO, this should be
> "... _conceived of_ ..."
> But who am I to second-guess the OED?

the OED's entry for "conceive" has cites for both plain transitive
"conceive" and of intransitive "conceive of" in the sense 'think of'.
actually, in several senses 'think of':

   [7b]  To form or evolve the idea of (any creation of skill or

   1875 JOWETT Plato (ed. 2) V. 4 The mind which conceived the Republic.

("conceive of" would also be possible here for me);

   [8]  To form a mental representation or idea of; to form or have a
conception or notion of; to think of, imagine.

   1888 Jewish Q. Rev. I. 55 The Rabbis could not conceive such a
monstrosity as atheistic orthodoxy.

(again, "conceive of" is possible for me, indeed much preferable);

   [8d]  intr. to conceive of: To form or have a conception of, think
of, imagine. [the transitive uses are earlier than these intransitive

   1871 RUSKIN Munera P. Pref. (1880) 10 He cannot conceive of any
quality of essential badness or goodness existing in pictures.

turning now to google, a search on {"conceive it as"} yields a big
pile of examples, most of which seem to be in writing on philosophy or
religion.  for example, from Ariew, Grene, & Grene in Descartes and
His Contemporaries, in a passage speculating about what Hobbes would
have said:

   If you conceive it as extended, you conceive it as a body, and you
grant ... If you conceive it as nonextended, you conceive a thing
which has a power ...

a few more cites, from diverse sources:

   Sheila: I think we should conceive it as A Man and a Woman have
Dinner with Andre—’cause then you have three characters, so that’s

   Some Semantic Web authors conceive it as a hierarchy of "semantic
interpretations" (a meta-ontology provides "semantics" to the bottom

   "People conceive it as very glamorous," says Brown. "But day to
day, it can be fairly ordinary." Before moving to the academy, she
worked as a freelance ...

apparently, transitive "conceive" is still alive and kicking, and
varies with intransitive "conceive of" in a number of contexts.
historically, this is preposition addition, and i would have expected
handbooks to complain about the prepositional version (on Omit
Needless Words grounds) -- or perhaps to complain about the transitive
version (on Include All Necessary Words grounds) -- but so far as i
can tell, none of the handbooks even mention the alternation.

Wilson Gray continued:

> OTOH, Google yields many examples of the type:
> "MARCH 20, 2008 | ISSUE 44*12
> "FREEPORT, ME-After six months of attempting to _conceive of_ having
> children, local couple Beth and Nathan Jablonski told reporters ..."

definitely preposition addition.  a few more examples:

   Thus, because the petitioner relied on the respondent's actions in
agreeing to conceive of a child through artificial insemination,  ...

   ...  she may have the satisfaction of knowing that she can make it
possible for some lucky couple to conceive of a child. ...

   Mae will joke that the only way she could have conceived of a child
is immaculately. The desperate Maggie is subject to a miserable second
virginity, ...

these strike me as very odd.  but they're certainly out there.


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