I've never liked the use of "to grow [x]" to mean "to make [x] bigger", rather than in the agricultural sense.

Am I justified in this at all?

(If so, can we make the SE team reword our social media banner?)

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    For what little it's worth, I share your distaste. Yes, yes, grammatically it's perfectly fine, but it still sounds... wrong. – Marthaª Nov 2 '10 at 15:00
  • Here's a C19 usage of grow in respect of parts of a business, so it's not exactly a neologism. Voting to close on the grounds this Q is just peeving in defiance of actaul usage. – FumbleFingers Aug 9 '11 at 15:10
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    That's not the usage I was concerned with, although in (nearly a year's worth of) retrospect I didn't make that very clear. I specifically meant the usage "we will grow x" rather then "we will make x grow". I'm amazed this is still garnering responses. – Rawling Aug 9 '11 at 15:43
  • Cf. Oxford usage note: "Although grow is typically used intransitively, as in he would watch Nick grow to manhood, its use as a transitive verb has long been standard in contexts which refer to growing plants and one's hair (more land was needed to grow crops; she grew her hair long). Recently, however, grow has extended its transitive sense and become popular in business jargon: entrepreneurs who are struggling to grow their businesses" lexico.com/en/definition/grow – Toph Jun 21 '19 at 17:20

I don't see any problem with using grow as transitive verb for things not related to agriculture.

Here is the definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary for grow as transitive verb:


a : to cause to grow

b :to let grow on the body

2 : to promote the development of start a business and grow it successfully — J. L. Deckter

The second definition is the one being used on the banner.

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    I'm glad to see that MW at least makes a distinction between the two cases. – Rawling Nov 2 '10 at 14:35
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    +1, but, while it might well be acceptable American English, it grates on the ear of a native "English Enlish" speaker. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Sep 26 '12 at 12:01
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    Make that two native British English speakers. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '12 at 22:06

As a young editor (long ago), I was taught to use "grow" only in reference to plants, and that companies "build" a business. Somewhere in the past 30 years, businesses started to use the word "grow" to refer to their company. It really does grate on my ears. I know it's common usage now, but I still consider it marketing jargon and I always change it when editing.

Just my .02 on this.

  • Welcome to EL&U. The question does ask about attitudes to the usage, not whether it's actually "valid" in the first place, so yours is a perfectly good response. But did your chemistry teacher never demonstrate how to grow copper sulphate crystals? – FumbleFingers Aug 9 '11 at 14:55
  • @Fumble: unfair comparison. Nothing wrong with growing crystals or plants, but not applicable to this site, unless you envisage covering it with manure and leaving it along for a while – Tim Lymington Aug 24 '11 at 22:07
  • My chemistry teacher never used manure. You must either accept that "grow" is okay in non-horticultural contexts, or object to "growing crystals". In regard to "growing businesses" I think it's just a matter of saying it grates on your particular ear, not that it's objectively wrong. – FumbleFingers Aug 24 '11 at 22:14
  • One doesn't speak of growing one's interest in classical music, does one? But I'm not going to say that that proves that the verb can't take any non-horticultural direct object. Arguing from analogy doesn't work when behaviour is idiosyncratic. As it is with the DOs grow is used with. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 27 '12 at 15:53

I think it's fair to say that most people outside the business community rarely use grow as a transitive verb, unless they're talking about plants. I'm not generally impressed by business jargon. I think it tends to be purposefully vague, and to replace perfectly effective existing phrases without cause. The use of grow is a perfect example, since you could almost always just say expand or increase instead.


I don't think this is a matter of agriculture so much as organics. That is, the traditionally preferred use of "grow" is intransitive, unless what's growing does so from its own (natural) power. So, hair can grow, and crystals can grow, and tomatoes can grow, but economies can't grow, since human agency is needed to make them larger or stronger or whatever.

Fie upon you, Bill Clinton! This is not a Southern thing, since nobody I know in the South would ever "grow" a business. It's a matter of style, grace, and taste, which is of course how all grammar is ultimately determined. As my dear college professor said to me, "I don't think it's incorrect, it's just vulgar."

Raymond Chandler to new editor of his novel when they "corrected" his prose: "If I want to goddam well split an infinitive, I intend to." (or something like that)

  • I think you mean tomatoes can be grown, which is why I can say "I grow tomatoes". That's precisely the distinction I was trying to draw, since economies can and do grow; I don't think they can be grown. Regardless of whether you choose to edit, +1 for a convincing answer. – Tim Lymington Sep 20 '12 at 22:09
  • Useful distinction, between "I grow x organic" and "X organic can be grown". The "I" as subject implies agency, which is not the sense of the word when it means "increase of its own volition or under its own power". I don't "grow" anything, since the x/organic/tomato does the growing. (Although some gardeners, given our level of soil preparation, plant coaxing, attention, and worry, might differ.) (I have to look for a thread on proper use of the virgule.) – Max McCall Oct 3 '12 at 11:02

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