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I posted the following on Facebook earlier today:

For a moment, I thought that Newsnight had arranged for Zizek to debate Farage.

only for a friend to reply "debate with, surely?".

Is this something I've picked up from American English (I'm British), is either form acceptable or is what I've written just plain wrong?

I've tried a couple of online style guides, but none of them had anything to say on the matter. Thanks!

  • Merriam-Webster gives the example sentence "The President debated his challenger in front of a live audience on Tuesday", although a transitive verb debate with your opponent as the object doesn't seem to be mentioned in the OED. So this usage is definitely allowed in (at least parts of) the U.S. but maybe not in the U.K. – Peter Shor May 20 '14 at 20:08
  • And RHK Webster's licenses the human-referencing DO: vt 9: to engage in formal argumentation with – Edwin Ashworth May 20 '14 at 20:48
  • Yeah, to be honest I think my mate was just being overly pedantic. I reckon I probably picked it up from the British media, if anywhere. – david_hughes May 21 '14 at 2:14
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Typically, you debate a topic but you debate with a person or entity.

  • @PeterShor As an American born and raised, I have never heard 'debate [person]' used. The linguist in me wants to say it's probably a regional thing. – Andy May 20 '14 at 20:03
  • I have definitely heard debate a person in the U.S.; probably the Northeast. It certainly sounds fine to me. – Peter Shor May 20 '14 at 20:04
  • @PeterShor A debate is a form of discourse. I can't come up with any other form of discourse for which the recipient/other party can be used as the direct object of the verb. Any ideas? – Andy May 20 '14 at 20:08
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    A debate is also an adversarial affair. Consider I fought him; I battled him; I disputed him; I challenged him, I called him out. No ideas for verbs describing friendly discourse, though. – Peter Shor May 20 '14 at 20:14

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