I am trying to understand the logic of grammar and semantics in this specific context, and to what extent to "push" the boundaries within language-common-sense (I have read the various threads here on the topic of "off").

Standard usage example

"Pushing them off to..." (to the corner, to the side, etc.)

If the adverb off amplifies the value/significance of the verb push, clarifying that the thrust is away from certain limits, why it could not do the same with the verb persuading?

Example question:

"Persuading them off to.." (another physical location or a mental position)

There is some overlapping in meaning:

Push Cajole Persuade

Any thoughts?

2 Answers 2


"Pushing" may be used in a physical sense: "The panicked crowd pushed over anything and anyone in its way." It may also be used figuratively: "His father pushed him to study harder." The verb "persuade", however, may only properly be used to mean to change someone's opinion or decision (including a decision to take, or to refuse to take, some physical action), by means of argument, threat, or reward. The key is that persuasion is not used to physically force someone to change location or action, but rather to indirectly cause a relocation or an action by changing the will of the person being persuaded.

Your example, "Pushing them off to the side.." seems to be a non-physical situation where "them" is involuntarily being metaphorically relocated. They ("them") aren't being persuaded to decide to move to the side, but rather forced "to the side" against their firm will to remain.

"Off" in your example is simply an adverb that indicates (barely) where "them" has been pushed. "Off" may be used with "push" in either a tangible or intangible sense: "He was pushed off the cliff", or "He was pushed out of his job". It is not proper to say "He was persuaded off the cliff". Even in the rare instance where someone is talked into committing suicide, one would have to say, "He was persuaded to commit suicide". In English one can not be

Using "persuade" only to mean changing someone's mind is probably the safest course.

  • 1
    @DennisHidalgo I think the point is that “push off” is idiomatic while “persuade off” isn’t, so “push them off ...” works while “*persuade them off ...” doesn’t.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 7, 2018 at 14:43
  • 1
    @Lawrence Thanks. How so? If an idiomatic expression refers to a type of informal English that transmits a meaning different from the meaning in the words used in the expression, how would "push off" means differently from "push" and "off" separately? In other words, how is putting these two words together producing a different meaning from the ones they convey individually? Originally, I thought that "Off" modifies or amplifies the "push," or the prepositional phrase in which is included. But if this is an idiomatic expression, would not that change everything? Jan 7, 2018 at 14:58
  • 1
    @DennisHidalgo You're welcome. Things can be pushed into holes, up ladders, off to the side or onto platforms. These prepositions go quite naturally with push; they don't really amplify anything - they just say where the push was directed towards.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 7, 2018 at 15:04
  • 2
    @DennisHidalgo I see what you're getting at. The key is to determine whether the 'amplification' is due to off 'modifying' push or to the side. To my ear, 'amplification' only happens when we think of the person as being pushed off, rather than being pushed off to one side. This goes back to my earlier point: one can be idiomatically "pushed off", but one cannot idiomatically be "persuaded off". They can, of course, be persuaded off to one side, but that doesn't provide any 'amplification'. To amplify, you'd have to use something like 'persuaded completely to one side'.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 7, 2018 at 15:55
  • 2
    @Lawrence Your latest comment highlights to me the significant difference between "persuading" and "pushing": involuntary movement. Thanks. Jan 7, 2018 at 16:37

1) There is neither motion nor location in the verb persuade that could be intensified with an adverb.

2) The off really modifies the prepositional phrase rather than the verb and suggests a further distance from the speaker, even if only an emotional one. Someone off in the corner is more sidelined than someone merely in the corner, while "off to the side" seems more out of the way. The push is just how they got there.

  • 1
    Thanks. Wouldn't you say, however, that persuade conveys the meaning of movement in opinion (change of opinion)? And if the change in opinion refers to a physical movement, the entire matter is already conveyed by the sentence and should be understood by the reader? For example: "Everybody kept talking about music camp even when I made it clear to everyone around me that I wanted to stay. Each conversation found its way back to the subject, as if they were attempting to persuade me off to camp because they did not want me among them that summer." Jan 7, 2018 at 14:17
  • 2
    When Shakespeare has his Cleopatra complain shortly before her suicide that an actor would "boy my greatness in the posture of a whore," his audience even today understands exactly what was meant, but they do not rush to use boy as a verb. This usage of persuade is a similar wordplay, literalizing the metaphor to which you alluded: persuasion moves minds, thus, in this author's mind, why not dispatch him/her to music camp as well? It's a clever figure of speech, but not standard usage.
    – KarlG
    Jan 7, 2018 at 14:38
  • 2
    @DennisHidalgo My understanding of the difference is that a physical push (and, by analogy, a metaphorical push) instigates the actual physical movement of the person or object being pushed. Persuasion doesn't do that, it instigates the desire in the person to move themselves. You can 'persuade someone to move off to the left' but you can't 'persuade someone off to the left' you can only push them there.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 7, 2018 at 23:04
  • 1
    @BoldBen It seems you have built upon previous commentaries to offer a clear picture of the problem. You define the main difference between pushing and persuading: one is an actual movement (involuntarily) while the other one only makes an argument for a willful act. So, that's why Off could not work alone. This also means that we have been misusing pushing to sometimes denote the act of persuasion. Jan 8, 2018 at 2:34
  • 2
    To push someone to do something, to push someone around by being a domineering bully, or being a pushy person, is metaphor; there is no physical motion any more than a moving musical performance means I changed my seat. This does not make such usage wrong in some way. Metaphor is how language works.
    – KarlG
    Jan 8, 2018 at 5:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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