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I've come across this sentence in a piece of technical documentation:

Disabling personal usage requires the user provision the device as a fully managed device.

In my opinion this sentence is grammatically correct, but I've gotten into a dispute with a co-worker why "to" isn't strictly needed before "provision" in this case.

Can anyone confirm that the original sentence is correct and if so, whether there's a specific grammar rule that says why?

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    Do you know if it's a translation? Any sentence that needs three readings to understand it needs help, and the word to does help. Or: To disable the device for personal use, first provision it as a “fully managed device” on screen ABC. Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 13:40
  • Yosef Baskin has a point. It sounds as if you and your colleagues do not disagree about what the the instruction means. Could you please indicate how "disabling personal usage" arises? Does it prevent the user from using the device? If not, what does it mean? And what does 'provision' mean in this context? The only sense I can make of it is that it is an instruction to reset or programme in some way. If not, what does it mean?
    – Tuffy
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 15:20
  • These are technical instructions provided by Google in the context of device enrollment (MDM). I don't know whether the person who originally wrote these instructions is a native speaker or not. "personal usage" is a "noun" in this context.
    – Markus
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 15:37
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    Typical tech documentation! It almost always requires 3 readings to be understood! :D BTW, while I would read the original as grammatically correct, I can't be of any help as to WHY it is so. I also agree that it probably could have been written for greater clarity (as in totally).
    – Mark G B
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 16:39

3 Answers 3

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Your sentence is technically correct; it uses the subjunctive form of the second verb (provision) — which is what we do with verbs that come after verbs such as advise, insist, propose, require, ask, recommend, suggest, demand, and more.

What’s throwing off your co-worker is the use of the “zero that” — where that is omitted. While you can usually omit it, keeping it can clear up the confusion here:

Disabling personal usage requires that the user provision the device as a fully managed device.

That said, I detect no difference in meaning if you forego the subjunctive add to instead:

Disabling personal usage requires the user to provision the device as a fully managed device.

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Complex Catenative Construction

When a catenative verb has an object, the object usually comes between the catenative verb and second verb, creating a more complex construction, like this:

  • I want him to study harder.

(Because this destroys the "verb chain", some linguists do not consider this construction to be catenative. We include it here because many linguists DO consider it to be catenative.)

The verb following a [catenative verb + object] can be in one of the following forms:

  • (a) bare infinitive (eat)
  • (b) to-infinitive (to eat)
  • (c) -ing form (eating)
  • (d) past participle (eaten)

Which form/s is/are available depends on the first verb. The following lists show those verbs allowing a bare infinitive, and those allowing a to-infinitive.

verb + object + infinitive

  • (a) bare infinitive

feel, have, hear, help, let, make, notice, observe, see, smell, watch

  • We heard you say [that] you loved her
  • Will you help me wash the car?
  • We didn't watch the sun set

.............

  • (b) to-infinitive

allow, ask, assist, beg, bother, bribe, can bear, cause, challenge, charge, choose, command, compel, condemn, count on, dare, defy, depend on, direct, drive, empower, enable, encourage, entitle, expect, force, get, hate, help, impel, implore, incite, instruct, intend, invite, lead, leave, like, love, mean, need, oblige, order, persuade, prefer, press, rely on, remind, request, require, sentence, teach, tell, trouble, trust, urge, want, warn, wish

[and the following verbs, mostly with second verb to be]: assume, believe, consider, declare, discover, fancy, feel, find, imagine, judge, know, observe, presume, prove, report, represent, reveal, see, sow, suppose, think, understand

  • Do they allow us to wear shoes? / [passive] Are we allowed to wear shoes?
  • They told Sue to leave / [passive] Sue was told to leave
  • We believed him to be honest

[ ... ]

[EnglishClub] [amended]

In complex catenations, require takes a to-infinitive, not a bare infinitive, after the NP:

  • Disabling personal usage requires the user to provision the device as a fully managed device.

...........................................

There is the possible alternative using a that-clause complement:

  • Disabling personal usage requires that the user [should] provision the device as a fully managed device.

Though 'that' is often deletable from that-clauses

(He said [that] he will come)

I'd say that this is unacceptable in this case.

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    The EnglishClub article adds lists of verbs taking -ing forms and past participles in catenative structures. // Note that (i) 'help' takes either/both a bare infinitive or/and a to-infinitive (She helped us [to] wash up after the party). (ii) The idiosyncrasies of English are well exemplified by the fact that 'let' takes a bare infinitive whereas 'allow' takes a to-infinitive (They let Jill go / They allowed Jill to go). Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 14:58
  • A complete answer! I just wish it were a bit more abbreviated in getting the point across. I had to read it carefully and thoroughly to be totally clear.
    – Mark G B
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 16:54
  • ELU is not primarily aimed at providing answers to isolated questions (or to individual questioners), Mark. Hopefully, this will anticipate over 80 near-parallel questions using different verbs in the lists (though they're doubtless incomplete), reduce bloat, and be a far more searchable resource and teaching aid. Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 18:42
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The "specific grammar rule" is simply that some verbs idiomatically take certain constructions.

You can...

  • "...require the user to provision the device..."
  • "...require that the user provision the device..."
  • "...require provisioning the device..."

But not "require [object] [finite verb]." Mind, other verbs could take that construction: "I demand you kneel."

But since "provision" as a verb is a fairly specialized usage, this sentence is already headed into the territory of being hard to follow, so why not rewrite along simpler lines as suggested by Yosef?

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  • Since one can use ". . .require the user provision . . .", it is a matter of clarity, rather than grammatical propriety (IMHO) that the "to" be included. Otherwise, I would have upvoted, as your explanation is simpler than Edwin's.
    – Mark G B
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 16:51
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    @MarkGB I only have a 90% confidence in my assertion, but I am in fact saying (as is Edwin) that you can't use the infinitive without the "to," at least not with "require." "I require you kneel"? I don't have a good explanation other than "That's just the way 'require' works," but I'm fairly certain. Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 16:56

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