The Grammarphobia Blog

Can one person make a concerted effort?

Q: Can a single person make a concerted effort? The dictionaries I’ve checked say a “concerted effort” is something that’s done collectively. But I often hear the phrase being used to mean a strenuous or serious effort by one person.

A: We suspect that most people who use the phrase to refer to a strong or energetic action really mean “a concentrated effort,” which makes more sense to us.

However, you might argue, on merely technical grounds, that one person can indeed make “a concerted effort.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the adjective “concerted” as meaning “arranged by mutual agreement; agreed upon, pre-arranged; planned, contrived; done in concert.”

Notice that “planned, contrived” definition, sitting there surrounded by semicolons. It implies that one person could perform a “concerted”—that is, a planned—action.

This sense of singularity can be traced to the verb “concert” (like the adjective, it’s accented on the second syllable).

In one of its definitions, the OED says the verb “concert” applies to “a single person,” and means “to plan, devise, arrange.”

The dictionary has only two quotations using this sense of the verb:

(1) “I must now concert matters” (1712, from the writings of the antiquary and diarist Thomas Hearne);

(2) “He could … concert his measures against any state” (1878, from Carthage and the Carthaginians by Reginald Bosworth Smith).

But those writers weren’t talking about strenuous, fevered activity. To them, to “concert” meant simply to “plan, devise, arrange.”

That’s why we think the determined efforts of a politician to win reelection or a tennis pro to improve his serve are better described as “concentrated” than as “concerted.”

Or, of course, as “strenuous,” “serious,” “determined,” and so on.

While “concerted” is most often used to modify “effort” or “efforts,” it’s seen with other nouns too.

A brief Google search  turns up “concerted movement,” “concerted action,” “concerted approach,” “concerted measure,” “concerted struggle,” and “concerted activity,” as well as plural versions of all those phrases.

The verb “concert” originally meant to unite or agree when it entered English in the late 1500s.

The noun, originally meaning agreement or harmony, came along in the mid-1600s, and by 1689 it meant a public performance.

You’re right that some people use “concerted” to mean strenuous or serious. But none of the standard dictionaries we checked include this sense.

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