NPRSpeak: ASK (TO)

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Tue Jul 16 14:19:06 UTC 2002

In a message dated 7/16/2002 9:27:33 AM, JJJRLandau at AOL.COM writes:

<< maberry at U.WASHINGTON.EDU writes:

> > Is there anyone out there who would find it natural to "ask the judge
>  > disallow" something?
>  >
>  Highly unnatural for me-- "to disallow" or "that the judge disallow" are
>  fine. I would tend use the second alternative in speaking or writing.
>  Can some of this be traced to copy writers slavishly following the
>  Microsoft Word grammar checker and to copy readers simply reading
>  whatever is in the copy?

I trust that "I would tend use..." above is a typing mistake and not your
normal usage of English?

Microsoft Word grammar checker might be useful for illiterates, but it
generates so many false negatives that I turn it off or ignore it.  E.g.
every time I use passive voice the grammar checker complains.

I just tried a few sentences.  The checker passes
     1. Ask the judge to disallow something.
     2. Ask the judge disallow something.
     3. Ask that the judge disallow something.

and correctly objects to
     4. Ask that the judge disallows something.

That is, the checker finds nothing wrong with 2. above, although I do.

One reason for the NPR announcer to have used "ask the judge disallow" is
that the phrase is in the subjunctive, which is why we have "[singular] judge
disallow" rather than '"judge disallows" of the indicative.  Despite purists
like me, a lot of educated people ignore the subjunctive except for certain
stereotyped expressions that are used without thinking, such as "move that
the meeting be adjourned."   (Back in the 8th grade, I stumped the entire
class by posing that expression.  Not even the teacher realized it was in the
subjunctive.) >>

The presence or absence of "to" in such environments is to some extent
geographically and socially determined. Note that there are verbs such as
MAKE that (it seems to me) never allow "to" in any dialect (*"Make him to
call me"), verbs such as HELP that are totally variable for most people
("Help your little brother to get dressed"), and verbs such as HAVE that
allow "to" in the South but not elsewhere ("Shall I have him to call you?"
"They almost had their car to break down coming home last night"). This use
of "to" with HAVE is quite common in the South, and not at all a conscious
marker for Southerners (so one can often recognize a Southerner by this
feature even when he or she has made stenuous efforts to eradicate other
Southern features). I wrote a little article on this some years ago in

I'm not sure if what we have here is really a subjunctive or just an optional
deletion of the infinitive marker.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list