convince and persuade

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 16 01:07:29 UTC 2009

I distinguish "persuade" from "convince" solely on the basis of
Russian verbal "aspect" and only for the hell of it.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

On Thu, Jan 15, 2009 at 10:08 AM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: convince and persuade
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Jan 14, 2009, at 9:11 AM, Larry Horn wrote:
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>> 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.)
> arnold
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