I've noticed this being done by all my offshore Indian colleagues. They say and write things like, "Please refer attachment" or "Refer the documentation page", instead of "Please refer to the attachment" or "Refer to the page" etc.

Is there an explanation for that? And what do you call a verb that is used in conjunction with a preposition like this (listen to, think of, refer to)?

  • That sounds rather odd (but then so many elements of Indian English sound odd to my ear)—somehow never came across that one before. My immediate thought was that it could be related to the abbreviation cf. used in academic writing to refer the reader to another piece of writing for comparison. Cf. is short for Latin confer, which means ‘compare’ (slightly different from what the same word usually means in English) and is closely related, in both sound and etymology, to refer. That's just my guess, though. (Also, see phrasal verbs.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 14 '16 at 20:12
  • They're called phrasal verbs. And the explanation you're looking for is most likely to be ignorance, based on my experience. (I'm Indian, by the way.) – Tushar Raj Jan 5 '17 at 12:51
  • "Refer to" wouldn't work here because the person is basically asking you to read / take a look at that article/ page/ citation which is what refer means as used in Indian English. – English Student Jun 17 '17 at 23:57

It is a confusion over how the verb is used. I'm a little fuzzy on the official terminology, but note, e.g., that if one substitutes "read" for "refer" then the simple example (sans "to") works OK.

While both "read" and "refer" are transitive verbs, the object of "refer" is the person or thing being directed (e.g., "Refer him to the director for more information"), while the object of "read" is the thing being read.

I suspect that the Indian verb that most closely corresponds to "refer", in the sense we're discussing, has as its object the thing being referred to rather than the person/thing being directed. Thus, when the English word is substituted the wrong structure is applied.

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