Debatable Grammar: Impact as a Verb

by Nadine Bachan

Published at 2010-09-02

In last week’s blog, Camille mentioned her disdain for the use of the word “impact” as a verb. You’re definitely not in a one-person battle, Camille. I, and surely many others, wholeheartedly agree.
I had an experience with this word several years ago while I was watching the Academy Awards ceremony. A young starlet approached the microphone to present the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. She was poised and elegant. She spoke flawlessly.
And then it happened.
“These films have impacted our perception of the world in significant ways.”
There it was, “impact” used as a verb. I was immediately put off. In my opinion, “impact” is a noun only. To use it a verb is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, and the writers of that telecast should have known better. However, many people have come to embrace the idea that the rules of grammar and word usage are not set in stone.
Related: Looking for a grammar expert? We can help!  
The word hopefully appearing as a dangling modifier is just fine. The newly interchangeable nature of may and can, different from and different than and so many other pairings is now acceptable. Who can forget the ever-present “he/she/they” conundrum? It seems grammar is becoming increasingly preferential in nature and, consequently, the stuff of endless dispute.
If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of this battleground, you can find endless writings on the war between Prescriptivists (grammarians who believe usage must follow a fixed set of rules) and Descriptivists (grammarians who embrace the idea that usage is dynamic and always evolving). The usage of “impact” falls within this divide.
Champions of descriptive or generative grammar also are more likely to embrace the new phenomenon of texting language. They would argue that “C U later” and “lol” are simply parts of a new linguistic form (to the horror of our elementary-school language teachers). But, I digress.
To me, the verb impact and its variants (impacted, impacting) will always be a teeth-grinding annoyance, but I’ll grudgingly admit, it is no longer considered incorrect. While it’s not wrong, we are losing out on using other words and phrases that give our language so much more beauty and emphasis: “ramification,” “the ripple effect,” “a powerful effect,” “it hit home like a comet coming out of the sky!”
To be a Prescriptivist or a Descriptivist, the decision is ultimately yours. However, as editors, we beg one thing: whatever you choose to be, please, be consistent.
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