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A Word, Please: Open yourself up to grammar

A reader named Roy sent me an e-mail recently. He had a question – not for himself but for a friend. And, heaven help me, I really believe it was for a friend. Here’s what Roy wrote:

“Dear June, I have a friend who is bothered by the difference between the use of ‘open’ and ‘opened’ when a person has left the room. My friend wants to know the answer, but is reluctant to write to you for fear of making a grammatical error.

“An example … ‘When I left the room, the door was left open.’ Or should it be, ‘When I left the room, the door was left opened’? The reason for the conundrum in my friend’s mind is that you can’t leave the room with the door ‘close.’”

Well, Roy, your friend was right to cower in terror at my ogre-like powers of withering linguistic judgment. As someone who never makes mistakes, and as someone who accepts only professionally edited, error-free emails, I probably would have ended up chasing him through the streets trying to stab him with a red pen.

But seriously, folks. The unfortunate thing here, aside from the image of me as a slobbering monster with fangs and an overbite, is that someone thinks his errors would stand out.

On the contrary, the feeling of being singularly and shamefully inadequate in the grammar department is more like an epidemic. It seems everyone I talk to has an irrational fear that they somehow missed a lesson everyone else got and that they must, at all costs, conceal their ignorance from the grammar-enlightened masses.

The truth is, if you feel you’re all alone in this realm, that’s your guarantee that you’re not alone.

Let’s consider our anonymous friend’s question: Because you can refer to “a closed door,” you can also use the term “an opened door.” So far, so good. But can we extend that to the forms without the D ending? Setting aside the form of “close” that rhymes with “dose” and means “nearby” (which is essentially a different word), it’s true you can’t really have a “close door.” So does that mean you can’t have an “open door”?

No. In fact, both open and opened can modify the noun “door,” even though their corresponding antonyms may not work the same way.

“Closed” and “opened” are derived from verbs, to close and to open. Yet they function as adjectives in “a closed door” and “an opened door.” That’s simply one of the options English offers – our language lets you use past participles of verbs as adjectives: an eaten breakfast, a painted fence, a written work, a walked dog, a known fact. We call these adjective uses “attributive” and we employ them every day without having to think about it.

But the verb “open” doesn’t just have its past participle form “opened” to work as an adjective. It also has a full-fledged adjective form, which is identical to the verb: “open.”

The verb “close,” on the other hand, doesn’t offer the same option. Technically, it can function without a D as an adjective. But this form is so unidiomatic that it’s completely impractical. No one uses the term “close door” to mean “closed door.”

And if, like me, you think that “an open door” sounds better than “a opened door,” that has nothing to do with the mechanics of these terms. It’s probably because the form “open door” is more popular. In language, that’s valid.

So to anyone who hesitates to ask such an interesting and insightful question, all I can say is that my door is always open, and dictionaries are easy to open, too.


JUNE CASAGRANDE is the author of “It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences.” She can be reached at