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I searched the stack for similar questions but was unable to find any that addressed this particular usage.

We use the word recommend in the sense of advise, in which case the verb may take a direct object or introduce a command (I recommend this course of action. I recommend that you do X. I recommend you to do X). We also use recommend in the sense of endorse (I recommend him for this position). In the overwhelming majority of cases, the subject of the verb recommend is a person or something acting like a person.

I've come across a number of instances, however, where the subject of recommend is not an agent but the qualities that make someone worth recommending. In such instances, recommend seems to provide a more compelling alternative to the verb 'make.'

My experience and skills recommend me as a fine candidate for this position.

My experience and skills make me a fine candidate for this position.

Interestingly, all of the usage examples provided by Webster's and the online OED are sentences in which the subject of recommend is an agent, so the dictionaries do not provide much clarification. However, searching Google or Google books does turn up frequent enough examples of the above usage; I have also found this construction in cover letters.

I am still somewhat skeptical, because we never use the synonym 'endorse' in quite the same way, and endorse always seems to require a subject that is a person. If we don't say traits and qualities endorse, is it in fact correct to say that they recommend?

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2 Answers 2

My American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed., has this definition and example:

2) To make (the possessor, as of an attribute) attractive or acceptable: Honesty recommends any person.

So, yes, I think recommend can be used as your example sentence states.

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Interesting. It raises the question whether a sentence like "my experience recommends me" is an instance of personification that passes notice. Does the AHD list when this particular usage comes about? I'm not yet 100% convinced, though, because "Honesty recommends any person" is so aphoristic. –  jeffclef May 23 '12 at 17:54
No, the AHD does not explain when that usage came about. I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "an instance of personification that passes notice." And what difference would that make? –  JLG May 24 '12 at 1:16

I think it's misleading to identify endorse as a synonym for recommend in the first place. Few if any word-pairs are true synonyms, in the sense that one can always replace the other in all contexts, without affecting either meaning or acceptability. For example, He recommended I resign - not *He endorsed I resign.

Here are several written instances of "...experience recommend him...", where in most cases it's clear the experience syntactically has the role of an "active agent" doing the recommending. There's nothing wrong, or even "unusual" in this - semantically we simply assume a conscious entity who will consider that experience, and conclude it represents a good reason for the proposed action.

As it happens, native speakers wouldn't normally replace recommend with endorse in OP's context, but it wouldn't be inherently "incorrect" to do so.

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Ok, I see your point but don't think you read my question closely. The counterexample you provide is addressed by my opening remarks framing the way we use recommend (see advise). Second, I searched Google Books before writing the question, so I wasn't at a loss of examples (only a loss of authoritative sources). Your precise query, however, does suggest that the construction has fallen out of relative currency, because most of those expressions comes from the early twentieth century and before that. –  jeffclef May 23 '12 at 18:23
@jeffclef: Have a look at these 80 written instances of "qualities that recommend" from C21: The usage is a little formal - dated, even. But your question asks whether it's correct - to which the answer is most definitely "Yes, it's perfectly valid". –  FumbleFingers May 23 '12 at 20:31

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