The Grammarphobia Blog

A growing concern

Q: I often notice new trends in English. One that bugs me is the increasing use of “concerning” instead of “worrying” or “alarming.” For example, I hear people on radio or TV describing a news event as “concerning.” Have you noticed?

A: No, I haven’t noticed this use of “concerning” as an adjective (as in, “We’re having a concerning week on Wall Street”). But you have, so it must be out there.

The word “concerning” is a participle form of the verb “concern,” as in “His mismatched socks were barely noticeable, and were concerning him unnecessarily.”

It’s also used as a preposition meaning regarding or in reference to: “Concerning his socks, I would say nobody noticed.”

As for “worrying” and “alarming,” it’s standard English to use those participles as adjectives, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. For example, “We’re having an alarming week on Wall Street.”

But it’s not considered standard to use “concerning” that way, at least not in modern times. In the past, though, “concerning” was indeed used as a participial adjective, according to the OED.

The dictionary has a few citations for this usage, dating from 1649 to 1834, including this one from Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela (1741): “I cannot bear anything that is the least concerning to you.”

Richardson seems to have had a thing about using “concerning” as an adjective. In The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1781), he describes Lady L. as “speaking for her sister on this concerning subject.”

The adjectival use of “concerning” is considered archaic today, according to the OED. Is it now being revived? Will it stick this time? We’ll have to wait and see.

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