convince and persuade

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Thu Jan 15 15:08:08 UTC 2009

On Jan 14, 2009, at 9:11 AM, Larry Horn wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: convince and persuade
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 11:48 AM -0500 1/14/09, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
>> "I will have to convince the author to give us a quick revision of
>> her
>> article."
>> My AOL spell-and-grammar checker tells me that this use of
>> "convince" is an
>> "inappropriate preposition." They suggest "persuade" instead. I
>> vaguely
>> remember that some old-time prescriptivists condemn the use of
>> "convince" as a verb
>> meaning "persuade," but this seems bizarrely old-fashioned--and
>> "preposition"
>> has nothing to do with it.
> Right, there is such a prescriptive rule which may or may not ever
> have been followed.  I suppose the grammar check isn't sophisticated
> to declare "incorrect subcategorization frame".  AHD has a usage note
> on this under "convince" and notes that a previous vote by the Usage
> Panel (before I was on board!) declared that the prescriptive rule
> was worth preserving, although the usage note also mentions that any
> such a rule is widely violated or ignored in practice.

MWDEU has an excellent detailed article on "convince" and "persuade".
there's a tradition going back to the 19th century for distinguishing
the two verbs by meaning, with "convince" referring to mental
acceptance and "persuade" to mental acceptance followed by action.
there were complaints about "persuade" being used where "convince"
should have been used.  but, until about 50 years ago, no complaints
about the reverse -- because, apparently, "convince" was not used (in
print) with a direct object and a marked-infinitive complement
(conveying mental acceptance followed by action) until the 1950s!  and
immediately  people began complaining about this construction.  but it
spread, and by 1989 MWDEU was labeling it "a fully established
usage".  (and, eventually, a majority of the AHD panel accepted it.)

so there was an innovation, and almost immediately usage critics
pounced on it -- but to no avail (MWDEU: "in another generation
perhaps no one will care").  still, as so often in these cases, the
"rule" hangs on, as what i've called (on Language Log) a "zombie rule".

(for what it's worth, my grammar-checker -- for Windows for the Mac --
doesn't mark the construction.)


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