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I wonder if we can say rebuke something or not? According to the dictionaries, it seems that we can only rebuke someone but not something. I want to say something like "rebuke greed" in a formal text. I am confused.

The definition from Oxford Dictionary:

Rebuke = ​the act of speaking severely to somebody because they have done something wrong

The definition from Cambridge Dictionary:

Rebuke = to criticize someone strongly because you disapprove of what the person has said or done

The definition from Longman Dictionary:

Rebuke = to speak to someone severely about something they have done wrong

The sentence, I want to use rebuke in:

They rebuke his greed and present ethical arguments to argue why he should be punished.

In case this usage is wrong, could you please introduce me another suitable substitute? Thank you

3 Answers 3

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The use of rebuke with inanimate nouns is archaic:

archaic : to turn back or keep down - CHECK (M-W)

It is used in this way in the Bible:

KJV Psalm 106:9 He rebuked the Red sea also, and it was dried up.

KJV Luke 4:39 And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them.

It seems that this use has survived in modern writing, but it is very rare and can be characterised as literary. Here are some instances:

  • Courts rebuke the latest prosecutorial attack on business. (WSJ)
  • Hours before the House vote, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., rebuked the report as 'misleading'... (Slate Magazine, COHA)

One alternative would be the suggestion made by Trae. Another alternative would be to use transitive synonyms of rebuke which would accept an inanimate noun as their object, such as reprove which can mean:

to express disapproval of : CENSURE

  • it is not for me to reprove popular taste — D. W. Brogan (M-W)
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  • It is probably a matter for discussion on Biblical Hermeneutics as to whether the Biblical rebukings involved spiritual agents giving rise to the natural disorders. Or rather as to how opinion divides here; they don't field unanswerable-for-now questions on BH either. Aug 13, 2021 at 9:51
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The American Heritage Dictionary entry says it is possible if that thing is an act:

  1. To express sharp criticism regarding (an act, for example): "a series of sweeping decisions that rebuked the investigators' presumptions" (Donald A. Ritchie).

The OED as well agrees that we may use it with 'something' if that something is a quality, action, etc.

transitive. To find fault with, censure, condemn (a quality, action, etc.)

1875 B. Jowett in tr. Plato Dialogues (ed. 2) IV. 131 Parmenides rebukes this want of consistency in Socrates.

1960 C. Day Lewis Buried Day i. 22 All would rebuke my naughtiness with a mild ‘Ah, don't be so bold, Master Cecil.’

2005 Providence (Rhode Island) Jrnl. (Nexis) 4 Apr. a7 We can ask schools to ‘handle’ these matters, and we can praise or rebuke their actions.

The examples above all refer to specific instances or qualities of specific people.

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As already pointed out in your question, you must rebuke a person about something.

They rebuke him for his greed and present ethical arguments to argue why he should be punished.

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