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A lot of people say this when they are challenging someone else:

I'll verse you.

I thought this sentence was grammatically correct. However one day my computer teacher got into an argument with us about it. He whipped out a dictionary and began searching the word "verse" and told us the definition and said that saying "verse" as in challenging is wrong. It should be used as in Home verses Guest. Is that right? If it is, why does the majority say it this way?

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  • If I may, may I ask why was my question downvoted? I don't understand. Jul 22, 2011 at 21:29
  • I think it is because your question was originally asked on the meta site, which was not the right forum. It has since been migrated here, but I guess the old downvotes remain.
    – nohat
    Jul 22, 2011 at 23:21
  • I just heard "verse" used in this way by a host on National Public Radio.
    – Lilith64
    Aug 2, 2018 at 21:43
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    Anyone who says "verse" is not a verb is not well-versed in idiomatic English.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 2, 2018 at 22:52
  • 2
    Note that "verse", in this sense, does not mean "challenge".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 2, 2018 at 22:53

8 Answers 8

6

Your teacher is correct.

I believe that you're mixing up verses vs. versus. Versus should be used in the sense of challenging or opposing someone or something.

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    You are correct about the word that it's versus that the attempted verb verse seems to come from. However, versus does not have a standard form that can be used as a verb in the sense of challenging someone. I think your answer may lead the OP to an incorrect conclusion.
    – sarah
    Nov 17, 2013 at 3:09
  • @sarah The slang usage of 'verse' OP queries has now made it into AHDEL. Sep 1, 2015 at 18:13
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There is no such verb as verse (with third-person singular present tense form verses) with the sense OP queries. The word is versus, it comes from Latin, and it is a preposition that means, basically, against.

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    If it is true that "A lot of people are saying 'I'll verse you'", then plainly there is such a verb, even if it hasn't got into any dictionaries yet. No doubt it derives from a reanalysis of "versus", but that is how language changes.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 22, 2011 at 12:26
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    In my experience mostly children say this, who then later learn it is incorrect. Perhaps enough children will never learn it is incorrect, and it will become a part of the language, but I wouldn't make that prediction until I observe many adults say it too.
    – nohat
    Jul 22, 2011 at 15:29
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    "To verse" (v.tr.) is hardly a neologism. She tried to verse herself in the rules of football so she wouldn't be embarrassed at her first tailgate party. "To school" has a similar meaning, although one connotes learning through exposure, experience, or self-study, and the other connotes institutional training. Since "to school" has a more colloquial usage of "to best in a fight," the most you can probably hope for is the death of the notion that "I'll verse you" is some kind of backformation of "versus."
    – Phil N.
    Jan 27, 2012 at 21:54
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    @PhilN. You refer to a completely different word than the one the OP refers to, which isn't actually verses, but versus.
    – sarah
    Nov 17, 2013 at 2:54
  • It has been in AHDEL (admittedly marked 'slang', apparently, since 2011. Sep 1, 2015 at 18:15
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I'm not sure whether this has happened in the intervening years, but there is now at least one dictionary listing {AHDEL} for this sense of 'verse' (admittedly marked 'slang':

verse 3 tr.v. versed, versing, verses Slang

To play against (an opponent) in a competition.

[Probably back-formation from versus taken as verses in such phrases as Boston versus New York.]

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I have heard many children incorrectly use this term "verse" as a verb. (In terms of a challenge, as in: "Me verse you.")
But last week, I logged my first observance of an adult using the term this way. I meant to ask if she had young kids, but I didn't get the opportunity.

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I believe this has become more common with the rise of console video games in which players battle against one another. For example, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a popular Nintendo game, will have a dramatic voice say "VERSUS!" when showing the character screen. I'm guessing that children and teens hear this and interpret it to mean "This character verses this character!", as a verb. They don't realize it's a preposition meaning "against".

0

'To Verse' is a neologism that was formed through the process of back-formation from the Standard English word 'Versus'. For those who are unfamiliar, back-formation is when a word is derived by removing what are perceived to be affixes from another word. Examples include:

  • To Burgle - From Burglar
  • Haze - From Hazy
  • To Vend - From Vendor

While yet not part of Standard English, every single word in the English language was at one time not accepted as 'correct' within Standard English. Verse is currently being codified and is likely going to become part of Standard English in a decade or two. It's as correct as any other word. It's only incorrect in the eyes of people who have some kind of vested interest in defending an arbitrary definition of 'correct English'.

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    You wrote Standard English word 'Verses' which is incorrect. MW recommends: Take care, when writing the word out in full, that you distinguish between versus (a preposition meaning “against”) and verses (“lines of metrical writing”). Oct 10, 2018 at 1:41
  • "Every single word in the English language was at one time not accepted as 'correct' within Standard English": when was "man" not accepted as correct?
    – phoog
    Jun 9, 2021 at 5:47
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It's not incorrect, it's new usage. As an older person it bugs me to hear it but I hear it a lot and young people understand it to mean "to challenge". Therefore that's what it means. Language is always shifting and changing. Dictionaries are not rule books. They are not prescriptive, they are descriptive, and as such they will always trail behind actual usage. If verse stays in common usage, expect to see it in dictionaries eventually.

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  • Hi, welcome to EL&U. This has been covered in other responses, so I encourage you to edit if you have new information with supporting references. Here's the tour and help center for some pointers.
    – livresque
    Jun 9, 2021 at 0:09
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A verse is a group of words put together creatively and rhythmically such as in a poem or a song. To use it as a challenge is grammatically incorrect. When you say you want to verse someone it sounds as though you want to teach that person how write a poem correctly.

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    Hello, Daisy. This has nothing to do with grammar; it's a matter of semantics (the use of individual words). One of the senses listed by AHDEL (since 2011, I believe) for the verb 'verse' is the usage OP mentions. It is marked as slang. Sep 1, 2015 at 18:11

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