Where the verb agree means to come to an agreement (on something), Americans and Canadians make it intransitive, meaning it takes a preposition, usually on or to, when it has an object. For instance, opposing parties might agree on a compromise. Outside North America, especially in the U.K., the verb is often transitive, meaning the preposition is unnecessary. Opposing parties might agree a compromise.

The transitive agree has existed in British English for centuries, but it has only recently become common enough to rival the intransitive agree (and in current U.K. newswriting, the transitive one is actually far more common). The below ngram, which graphs occurrence of the phrases agreed to a, agreed on a, and agreed a in a large number of British books and periodicals published from 1800 to 2019, shows the transitive agree rising rapidly in the second half of the 20th century:

Agreed to a Vs Agreed A Vs Agreed On A British English

Here’s the corresponding graph for American English:

Agreed to a Vs Agreed A Vs Agreed On A American English

This would suggest that the transitive agree is rare in the U.S., or at least was rare up to 2000. Anecdotally, as Americans, we have encountered it with increasing frequency in U.S. media over the last year or so (which is the impetus for this post), but this might only be an imagined trend.

Based on web-published news stories from the past month (today being January 7, 2013), the ratio of agreed to a to agreed a is about 30:1 in the U.S and Canada. Agreed to a also prevails in Australia and New Zealand, but by a much smaller 2:1 ratio. The U.K. results are drastically different; agreed a is about ten times as common as agreed to a (this covers more than 35 U.K. news publications and websites, including big ones such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, and the BBC).


In these examples from the U.S. and Canada, agree is intransitive:

The firefighter’s union is the only employee group that failed to agree to a two-year salary freeze. [CBC]

House and Senate negotiators agreed on a final version of a key defense-policy bill on Tuesday. [Wall Street Journal]

The Los Angeles Dodgers reached a record contract Saturday with starter Zack Greinke, agreeing to a six-year, $147 million deal. [New York Times]

And in these examples from outside North America, agree is transitive:

Basildon Borough Council’s cabinet agreed a masterplan for the town’s redevelopment over the next five years. [BBC]

What does it take to get them back to the table to discuss and agree a long-term deferment of €40 billion of our bank recap debt? [Irish Times]

On the downside, countries did not determine a timeline for agreeing a new deal by 2015. [The Age]

3 thoughts on “Agree”

  1. Very interesting – I’ve not come across this at all. (I’m in the US.) Could you post a few examples of the transitive usage from the US? I’m wondering how many of the “agreed a” instances in your graph were actually phrases like “I agreed a lot with what she had to say” and other false-positives. Or did you filter those out somehow before graphing?

    • There are definitely false positives represented in the graph—“agreed a lot,” “agreed a little,” “agreed a great deal,” and phrases with an implied “that” (e.g., “we agreed a pizza sounded good”), but we thought it safe to conclude that the rise in “agreed a” in BrE was a result of the transitive “agree,” and just to make sure the presumption really was safe we spent some time doing BrE-limited historical searches in Google News and Books, and it is indeed obvious that phrases like “agreed a comprise” are much more common in, say, the 1990s than the 70s, so we see no reason to believe that the steep upslope in the orange line in the first graph is due to anything else. These things are never foolproof, though, so it’s possible someone will come along and prove that there is another explanation.

      Appropriately enough, when we look more closely at the results for “agreed a” etc. in recent U.S. news stories, many come from Reuters (London-based) or appear in stories about the U.K. or the E.U. (meaning there’s a good chance many of them are written by British correspondents).

      • Thanks for the reply. I find this quite fascinating. I have to say that Grammarist is by far my favorite daily email I receive. Thanks for all the interesting nuggets and better understanding of the language.


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