Time magazine copy chief and copy editor pointed out the grammatical errors of many movie titles, and suggested corrections in the article of Time magazine (May 24) titled “Writing Wrongs: 10 Movie Titles with Bad Grammar.” There was the following suggestion on the title of “Law Abiding Citizen”:

“Some citizens the law can abide; others it cannot stand.” Suggested fix: A hyphen Law-Abiding Citizen

Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘abide’ as a verb:

1 [no object] (abide by) accept or act in accordance with (a rule, decision, or recommendation):
2 [with object] (can/could not abide) be unable to tolerate.
3 [no object] (of a feeling or memory) continue without fading or being lost.

I understand citizens can abide by law and we are mostly law-abiding citizens. But can the law abide citizens as used in “Some citizens the law can abide"?

  • 3
    I like the final sentence of your question. I think it'd be well suited for philosophy.se... =)
    – Hal
    May 26, 2013 at 5:54

3 Answers 3


The "core" sense of abide is much bound up with wait (for a thing), withstand, sustain/maintain".

But one specific and relatively common sense today is to suffer, tolerate. Here are dozens of written instances of [Nature] cannot abide a vacuum where that meaning is applied metaphorically.

I therefore don't see any problem with, for example,...

There are some citizens the law can abide. Others (such as armed terrorists) can never be tolerated.

The sense of the word in law-abiding citizen is somewhat different. Here it means To stand firm by, remain true to; to act in accordance with, submit to (OED definition 14).

OP's citation from Time magazine humorously/flippantly juxtaposes the two different senses, in a context where all the editor is really interested in saying is that law-abiding citizen needs a hyphen.

  • Shouldn't there be a by after "abide" in "some citizens the law can abide"?
    – Pacerier
    May 23, 2015 at 14:13
  • @Pacerier: I can see where you're coming from, but actually the answer is No. If you abide by something, that "something" has to be, for example, a rule - that's to say to abide by = to respect, conform to (presumably in the sense of abide = remain [within certain preset boundaries]). But if you cannot abide [something] with no preposition, it just means you can't stand, tolerate, put up with whatever thing you find totally unacceptable. May 23, 2015 at 15:04

Law is the object of abiding there, not the subject. It’s just like with a gun-carrying populace: the people carry guns, not vice versa. You can see the same thing with other equivalent constructions, like an apple-eating contest or a bridge-building exercise. It all these cases, the first word is the logical object of the participial verb.


Is it so much more difficult to abide using a dictionary than it is to abide on line for an answer? It's hard to abide laziness.


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