Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've always thought that the use of the preposition 'to' with the verb 'convince' is correct. But I recently learned from a reliable source that 'to' shouldn't be used with 'convince' but rather with 'persuade'. So instead of saying for instance 'I should try to convince him to work harder', I'd rather say 'I should try to convince him of his ability to work harder' or 'I should try to convince him that he can work harder' or 'I should persuade him to work harder.'

Honestly, I'm still perplexed. Could anyone shed some light?

share|improve this question
    
Grammatically, convince to and convince of are both correct and have different meanings. Why would you have difficulty in using one over the other if the meaning you want to convey is clear? Expressing a thought in different ways, all grammatically correct, is but a matter of style. See related usage in corpora and it becomes clear. –  Kris Dec 27 '11 at 4:27

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Short answer: they're both fine, and you clearly already understand when to use which.

Use of with a noun phrase, to with a predicate, and that for a clause. You gave very good examples of all three in your question. The original reason the to usage was frowned upon is that convince was supposedly only for thoughts and ideas; if something someone said resulted in you actually doing something, then you were persuaded rather than convinced. This rule is rather old. Here's what Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage has to say:

To sum up: long ago persuade became established in a use connoting mental acceptance without following action -- a sense Richard Grant White thought should be reserved for convince. Persuade still has this use, often with the same of and that constructions regularly found with convince. Sometime around the middle of this century, convince began to be used to connote mental acceptance followed by action, usually in a construction in which an infinitive phrase follows the verb [that is, with to]. This construction is now a fully established idiom. The earlier usage writers who tried to fence off persuade from convince and the later ones who tried to fence off convince from persuade have failed alike. And in another generation perhaps no one will care.

You can read the rest of the entry on page 297 on Google Books. They also give attested usages from the New York Times, etc.

Eduardo may have a point about the British/American thing. Just a quick search of the BYU-BNC British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English, which contain millions of words from published material gave this for the BNC:

  • 7 hits for convince him to
  • 12 hits for convince him of
  • 39 hits for convince him that

and this for the COCA:

  • 140 hits for convince him to
  • 29 hits for convince him of
  • 131 hits for convince him that

Keep in mind that each of these usages differs also in meaning, so be careful what conclusions you draw from these numbers.

You may also be interested in the Google Ngram Viewer.

share|improve this answer
    
Thank you for the valuable answer. In fact, I've also checked in the online corpus concordances output and I was surprised I didn't find any entry with 'convince to'. Here's the link conc.lextutor.ca/concordancers/wwwassocwords.pl –  Tanninah Dec 26 '11 at 20:23
    
@TeHbTeHb: Sorry, your link is not correct. Need to access through conc.lextutor.ca/concordancers/concord_e.html. Lextutor gives this result for 'convince to': '...he sought to convince another National League club to move here.' –  Kris Dec 27 '11 at 4:22

In "convince him to" or "persuade him to", "to" is not a preposition — it's part of the infinitive verb that follows. "Convince him to (verb)" is a legitimate construction. The "of" form takes a noun — "convince him of (some fact/position/etc)".

share|improve this answer
    
Of course it is not a preposition. What a blunder! Silly me. Thank you for pointing it out. –  Tanninah Dec 26 '11 at 18:24
    
It's not part of the infinitive either though. It's a subordinator. In sentences like make him go, the verb go is infinitive, but there's not a to in sight. –  Brett Reynolds Dec 26 '11 at 23:13

Examples taken from merrian-webster defition of convince include both the use of of and to:

He convinced me that the story was true.
They convinced us of their innocence.
I managed to convince myself that I was doing the right thing.
We convinced them to go along with our scheme.
I was unable to convince her to stay.

However, according to thesaurus:

The use of convince to talk about persuading someone to do something is considered by many British speakers to be wrong or unacceptable. It would be preferable to use an alternative such as persuade or talk into.

So it would seem to be just another BrE/AmE usage issue.

The definition in the Collins English Dictionary also points in that direction:

  1. (may take a clause as object) to make (someone) agree, understand, or realize the truth or validity of something; persuade
  2. Chiefly US to persuade (someone) to do something

Besides this usage issue, there is also, as JohnJamesSmith said, a difference in meaning. Here is an interesting discussion at WordReference, which gives a very good example, concluding that there are cases where the replacement of convince for persuade just for the sake of correctness, can eventually have an actual degradation in meaning. Let me quote the post:

I actually feel like there's a meaningful difference between convince someone to do something and persuade someone to do something, at least in certain contexts.

Since convince, as you say, geostan, involves changing someone's beliefs or opinions, I feel like that semantic property holds even for the convince someone to construction. Let me give you an example:

Two friends, Bob and George, get caught stealing from a store. Bob is always getting into trouble, whereas George is generally a nice boy. When questioned by his parents, George says, "I know it was wrong to steal, but Bob convinced me to!"

In this context, convinced implies, at least to me, that George changed his beliefs, at least temporarily, in order to steal. That is, for that brief moment, Bob managed to make George believe that it was okay to steal, or that he could ignore his conscience/beliefs.

Persuaded, on the other hand, would imply that George stole knowing (and still believing) full well that it was wrong.

It may not be a great example, but if you consider the adjectives convincing and persuasive, I think the difference is there. We could say that "Bob was convincing" means that Bob was able to convince George that stealing was okay, whereas "Bob was persuasive" simply means Bob was able to get George to steal, without having him change his beliefs.

So, I would conclude that in most cases it is a matter of BrE or AmE use, but you should always bear in mind that you can not always replace convince with persuade, because both verbs have slightly different meanings.

share|improve this answer
    
Sorry to tell you that the example didn't really make me see the difference between 'convince' and 'persuade' although I 'feel' there's indeed a difference. e.g 'The bad weather persuaded me to change plans and stay home.' I don't feel 'convince' appropriate here and excuse my ignorance I don't know why. –  Tanninah Dec 27 '11 at 9:15

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.