To my US English ear, "The notice recites" sounds wrong. I think one recites poetry but the notice itself can't recite anything. I checked with Merriam Webster and it seems to back up my point of view in that it doesn't have a definition that would fit "The notice recites." So I copy-edited an Academia Meta question, changing "recites" to "reads." However, the author rolled it back and was a bit miffed about my edit. He claims the dictionary he consulted backs up his point of view, which is that both are correct. We have agreed to meet here at noon for an ELL showdown. I look forward to seeing what he found in his dictionary.

Question: Does the following sound weird?

The notice recites:

(bla bla etc. etc.)

From Merriam-Webster:


transitive verb

1 : to repeat from memory or read aloud publicly

2 a : to relate in full: recites dull anecdotes

b : to give a recital of: recited a catalog of offenses

3 : to repeat or answer questions about (a lesson)

intransitive verb

1 : to repeat or read aloud something memorized or prepared

2 : to reply to a teacher's question on a lesson


I see several meanings given under "read" (again, Merriam Webster) that seem to fit with the way I used "read" when I attempted my edit of the pricklish person's post.


6 : indicate: the thermometer reads zero


2 a : to yield a particular meaning or impression when read

b : to be readable or read in a particular manner or to a particular degree: this book reads smoothly

3 : to consist of specific words, phrases, or other similar elements: a passage that reads differently in older versions


The author cited the Oxford English Dictionary, full paywall version. Unfortunately he didn't cite any text from the dictionary or even say which definition(s) he felt back up his point of view.

I took a look. I'm able to find one definition which looks like it could conceivably fit, without being explicitly considered obsolete, historical, literary, archaic, or legal:

Origin: Of multiple origins. Partly a borrowing from French. Partly a borrowing from Latin. Etymons: French receiter; Latin recitare.

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman receiter, receitter, Anglo-Norman and Middle French reciter

  1. trans.

    b. To cite or quote (a law, passage, opinion, etc.).

However, the examples still leave me with some doubt. I'll explain in a moment. First, the examples:

1509 H. Watson tr. S. Brant Shyppe of Fooles (de Worde) ii. sig. A*.iiii Ye must recyte and declare good auctorytees of lawe and of decrete.

1570 J. Foxe Actes & Monumentes (rev. ed.) I. 121/2 After that he reciteth the decree which he himselfe made against them.

1621 R. Burton Anat. Melancholy i. ii. i. ii. 70 Some few I will recite in this kinde out of most approoued Phisitians.

1653 H. More Antidote against Atheisme iii. ii. 109 I will briefly recite some few of those many miraculous passages.

1710 H. Prideaux Orig. & Right Tithes iv. 165 The passage of Mathew Paris above recited.

1793 T. Beddoes Observ. Nature Demonstrative Evid. 14 I might recite the opinions of a considerable number of writers.

1832 M. Stuart Comm. Epist. Romans 400 Without delaying to recite different opinions, I would merely say, that..it seems to me plain the question in ver. 20 is to be repeated.

1863 E. A. Hitchcock Red Bk. Appin (2003) 31 Besides the passage just recited from Isaiah, the prophet refers to the same Light in many other places.

1892 G. B. Goode in Ann. Rep. Board of Regents Smithsonian Inst. 1891 iii. 283 The second [bill], reported February 6, recited the opinion—‘That the education of the children..is a duty of solemn and indispensable obligation’.

1985 M. Youssef Revolt against Modernity vii. 49 He recited the example of Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt..to prove his case.

2003 G. W. Jareke & N. K. Plant Seeking Civility vi. 72 The court of appeals recited the law of North Carolina..that the Wilsons would have to show that Pearce's conduct ‘exceed[ed] all bounds of decency’.

The big jump in dates is a red flag but my primary concern is that the examples seem to fit Definition 1 or Definition 2b:

1 trans. Law. To state (a relevant fact) in a deed or other legal document. Also with clause as object.

2b trans. To mention separately or in order (a number or set of things); to give a list or catalogue of; to enumerate, list. In later use passing into sense 5a.

5a trans. To read aloud or repeat from memory (a poem, passage, prayer, etc.), esp. before an audience. Also: to intone (a psalm, canticle, or the like).

Does Definition 4b nevertheless back up the author's use of recite?

2/22/18 The Outcome

I'm awarding the bounty to @sparksbet. Many thanks to all involved, especially

  • The author, who came back and explained his point of view ('I consciously used "recite" in a legal and possibly archaic sense').
  • 1006a, who commented that the author was apparently "going for a sort of pseudo-legalese feel."

Now I understand both the original word choice and also why my copy edit bothered the author so much.

  • Gee. I haven't noticed that you've been keeping on updating this question. But why writing "without being explicitly considered obsolete, historical, literary, archaic, or legal" when I explicitly acknowledged that I consciously used "recite" in a legal and possibly archaic sense? The definition of interest here is 1, as Sparksbet rightly pointed out. I'm not sure what else you're looking for. Feb 22, 2018 at 21:59
  • @MassimoOrtolano - Thanks for coming back and explaining ('I consciously used "recite" in a legal and possibly archaic sense'). I had not understood that before. / I apologize for not pinging you about the bounty. I had the impression you had lost patience with this whole topic, since there was no response to my Feb 4 ping. But people get busy and now I realize it would have been nice to ping you again, regardless. Feb 22, 2018 at 22:39

7 Answers 7


I would characterize the use of "recites" in the linked post as technically not incorrect, but very unnatural and antiquated.

That said, definition 4b from the OED does not support their claim that their use is in keeping with English usage of these words -- outside of legal contexts, it is not. That definition supports examples like "I recite this notice," but being able to use "recite" as a transitive verb does not make it acceptable in this context. "Read" may have a similar meaning to recite in contexts like "I read this notice," but unlike "recite", "read" is acceptable as an unaccusative verb. Many verbs, like "read", can be used as intransitives with the patient as the subject, but this is not typically the case for "recite," at least not in modern non-technical usage. The examples under definition 4b confirm this: they are examples in which an agent (in this case, a person) recites a text, not in which that text recites its contents.

However, there are indeed attested examples in the OED (which I also have access to) of "recite" being used as they claim it's used.

A screenshot of Oxford English Dictionary containing four sentences from law reviews throughout the years, each using recites in the way described

The relevant definition here is definition 1, which describes a definition of "recite" specific to the legal field.

a definition of "recite" from Oxford English dictionary in which "recite" is describes as a transitive verb with a definition in Law as "To state (a relevant fact) in a deed or other legal document. Also with clause as object."

The "also with clause as object" is what would describe the linked author's post, as that's clearly how they're using "recites" there. However, you'll notice that this definition specifies the Law domain, and that the examples from the 20th century are all from law reports and journals -- this is because using "recite" in this manner is really only accepted in the legal field, where language change occurs very differently and much more slowly than it does in the language used elsewhere (such as on Stack Exchange).

This is no doubt why the original post sounds so utterly wrong to some native English speakers -- because this usage is antiquated and unnatural outside of a very specific legal register (one most of us are not familiar with) and was used outside of the social context in which that register is appropriate.

This is why it is important for learners to pay attention to the sources of quotes like these when they're included in dictionaries, particularly in dictionaries like the OED, in which the examples can come from a wide variety of sources written in a huge variety of different registers. Using the right register for the context is a huge part of making one's speech sound natural, and even if using "recites" here is technically grammatical, that doesn't make it sound any less unnatural to native speakers (particularly when such an easy, more suitable alternative for a non-legal register exists in "read").

  • Could you clarify, please, which OED definition, if any, would back up the author's claim that his use of "recites" in a non-legal context is technically correct? This part is confusing for me. Thank you. Feb 22, 2018 at 3:34
  • 1
    It would be definition 1, "trans. Law. To state (a relevant fact) in a deed or other legal document. Also with clause as object." It is under this definition that I found the above examples, which parallel the author's use. The "also with clause as object" is where the author's use would fall. Note that I did not say it's appropriate in a non-legal context, merely that it's not ungrammatical altogether. That usage is most definitely limited to a legal context, as I stated in my third paragraph and as the OED definition above says explicitly.
    – Sparksbet
    Feb 22, 2018 at 3:37
  • When you have a chance, could you edit your answer? I understood your comment. It was quite helpful. Your answer + comment together have helped me feel more confidence in my instincts about this. Feb 22, 2018 at 3:42
  • I certainly can!
    – Sparksbet
    Feb 22, 2018 at 3:44
  • 1
    "This is no doubt why the original post sounds so utterly wrong to native English speakers -- " a hyperbolic claim if ever there was one.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 22, 2018 at 11:23

Recite is etymologically related to the word cite.

From a Google search of "recite etymology":

enter image description here

Cite means to refer to something in another text - the idea of reproducing something that already exists is fundamental to the meaning of cite and also recite (especially since the re- prefix is there as well.) There must be 2 sources of text for a "cite" to happen.

Read simply means to look at text and understand its meaning, or to provide a meaning through text. However, with a notice in the usual sense of the word, unless there are 2 sources of text involved, it's not citing, and I don't see how it can become close to reciting.

Another etymological note from Google:

"late Middle English (as a legal term in the sense ‘state (a fact) in a document’): from Old French reciter or Latin recitare ‘read out,’ from re- (expressing intensive force) + citare ‘cite.’:"

So really:

  • voice is fundamental to the idea of recite: If X recites, X needs to have a voice.

  • it's been used with this meaning for hundreds of years if it comes from Latin, how long has the author been alive?

EDIT: I didn't think about the possible legal meaning. @Sparksbet makes a good point. There's quite a few words and phrases that, in a legal text or proceeding, have different meanings (e.g. convey, conversion, plead, try, sentence, "act of God", etc.) They aren't used that way outside of a courtroom or lawyer's office, but the use and meaning does exist.


Looking at the definitions for recite that you have given I would say that it is people who recite information and not inanimate notice boards (unless it's some techno-board that can talk).

if I'm relaying information to a friend about what I've read on a notice board then I would probably use the following:

The notice says....

The notice states that.....

I suppose you could say the notice reads, but to me it sounds formal and rather unidiomatic.

I'm not sure why people get miffed over these things. It's all a learning experience.


In the linked question, I use "recites" in a figurative sense. As reported by Andrew in his answer, this kind of usage is not widespread, possibly archaic, but certainly not unheard of.

A few similar examples found through Google Ngram viewer (but many others can be found):

Each book recites the adventures of a knight who represents one virtue;

(J. Broadbent, Paradise Lost: Introduction)

This book recites extensive correspondences between [...]

(T. Cleary, The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra)

Your paper recites that you declared an intention to become a citizen on the 22d of June, 1876; is that correct?

(House documents, Volume 295; Volume 299)

It's true, however, that I cheated a bit: in choosing this word, I was guided by the meaning of the equivalent Italian word, recitare. From the Treccani dictionary, meanings 3a and 3b (especially 3b; translation mine):

a. ant. Raccontare, esporre

(archaic, tell, recount)

b. Nel linguaggio giur., dire, affermare, prescrivere, in citazioni di articoli di legge

(legal language, say, state, prescribe, or citing laws)

But before using it, I checked its usage also in English.

  • 4
    When there is a direct object after our X verb, "recite" is appropriate. However, in your post, there was no direct object. The sentence didn't continue. When it is simply, "The notice X-s,", without a direct object, "reads" is in fact the correct verb to use. Syntax is often a defining argument for which word to choose.
    – user68912
    Feb 2, 2018 at 14:59
  • 3
    Usage in Italian legalese would in no way be an adequate reason for using a similarly-sounding word in another language in a non-legalese context. Legalese in every language is often frozen in time, archaic. So it would be "beware of false friends" times 2.
    – user68912
    Feb 2, 2018 at 15:03
  • 3
    Massimo - It's a half-joke that in my opinion doesn't work in English. I can function well in Spanish but it is not my primary language and I think that at Spanish Language SE I have managed to be open to receiving guidance about usage. I really appreciate your having posted here because it shows that you are similarly open to feedback about a language which you use extremely well, but not quite like a native speaker. // My question, after reading your answer here, is about your last sentence. Could you try to retrace your steps and provide some documentation? Inquiring minds want to know! Feb 2, 2018 at 16:09
  • 1
    @MassimoOrtolano - I'm confused. You think the way you used "recite" is fine. You think it wasn't fine, and sounds odd; and this was intentional. These two explanations feel a little contradictory. Maybe you're saying that as long as what you've written isn't blatantly incorrect, you can sound quirky if you want to. Am I starting to understand you? // Your source was Ngram -- is that right? Feb 3, 2018 at 0:57
  • 1
    @MassimoOrtolano - Because it would involve a lot of typing? Hmm. Can you take a screenshot (if online) or a picture (if hard copy)? Feb 4, 2018 at 22:23

I believe the OED sense cited in the question is not even necessary to prove the validity of recite in this instance. Definition 1 applies in the context of law and could be, in the case of a notice, literally used or figuratively extended for use to describe what was communicated in the notice.

The OED definition reads:

1. trans. Law. To state (a relevant fact) in a deed or other legal document. Also with clause as object.

There are a few relatively recent citations from the OED that refer to "documents" as the subject that "recites."

A couple are copied here:

1920 - Yale Law Jrnl. 29 937 Each deed recited that it was not to take effect during the life-time of the grantors.


1992 - Weekly Law Rep. 4 Dec. 948 The assignments were on a printed form of deed. The document recited the ‘vendor's’ deposit in a specified account with B.C.C.I.


As usual, Ngram disproves what I thought to be beyond argument: while it is much less common than "notice reads", there are enough examples of "notice recites" in published work to show that it is not uncommon, although possibly more so around the turn of last century. We learn something new every day.

enter image description here

My suggestion is to reverse the edit and allow the writer to use "the notice recites". If people think it strange, well, that's on him.

  • 7
    If you look at the "hits" for "notice recites", they are almost universally about legally required public notices. That doesn't really fit with the context of the meta post. For example "Copyright Office amended its regulations for recording termination notices to provide that a notice of termination under section 203 may be recorded in these circumstances if the notice recites as the date of execution not the pre-1978 date of the grant, but rather the date of the work's creation..."
    – ColleenV
    Feb 2, 2018 at 13:46
  • 1
    @ColleenV It can be argued that the meta notice in question is a notice that is legally required within the scope of SE "bylaws". A more important issue is that in your example, "recites" is accompanied by "as X". This doesn't sound wrong. E. g. it could say, "the notice names Person X as an official". However, just to say, "The notice names,..." and then to provide a quote where someone is named is someone would be wrong.
    – user68912
    Feb 2, 2018 at 14:07
  • 1
    @tenebris2020 It would be wrong to suggest that it is appropriate to use legalese in a non-legal context. Rules on SE are not laws - in face SE goes out of their way to try to avoid the sort of semantic nit-picking that is the hallmark of a lot of legal arguments :) It would be better to argue that 'recites' isn't legalese at all, it's just rare because it is very formal, and therefore it is appropriate to use on Academia.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 2, 2018 at 14:12
  • 5
    Absolutely - I agree with your conclusion; I'm just quibbling about the part where you claim the NGram disproves something by looking at the graph and not drilling down into the results. We can be easily misled by NGrams because the results are so authoritative looking (a phrase isn't grammatical/idiomatic because it is frequent in print - context matters). I think the NGram does point to some situations where "recites" is actually more common than "reads" and that we can deduce that the word is pretty formal and might be appropriate for Academia.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 2, 2018 at 15:35
  • 1
    I think we disagree on what "context" means. The fact of using recite with a person/inanimate object is what I mean by "context". This question wouldn't have existed if the context were "Jane recites the poem.". or "The person that wrote the notice recites the terms of the agreement."
    – ColleenV
    Feb 2, 2018 at 15:56

In the context of the question, a notice is a public sign which has written or printed information that tells or warns people about something, e.g. “Photography is not allowed here.”

In Italian, the verb recitare, primarily means to act, perform, play (in a theatre), deliver a speech, learn a passage for school, and above all, recite something by heart without reading.

1. Dire, pronunciare a voce più o meno alta, con una certa ricerca di espressività interpretativa, un testo imparato a memoria o già preparato, comunque senza leggere (Treccani)

The SE Academia user who wrote "the notice recites" is personifying an inanimate onject, a notice, as if it had a voice and was telling its audience– its readers– what the message announced. It's a rhetorical device, used for emphasis, not for idiomaticity, and as such it is perfectly permissible.

The OP of the bounty argues

I think one recites poetry but the notice itself can't recite anything.

Well, a notice cannot physically "read" either, it cannot physically "do" anything. It cannot discuss, speak, sing, think aloud, advise, or command. Being a "thing" it simply contains information that must be read by living people.

However, the verb "say" is more frequently used in conjunction with notices than "read" or "recite". A notice can convey a myriad of useful pieces of information such as; announcements, news, warnings, and a list of instructions.

The Online Oxford Collocation Dictionary says

appear, go up “The notice about his resignation went up this morning.”
| say sth, tell sb sth

Cambridge Dictionary's entry for notice includes the following examples

  • There was a large notice on the wall saying "No Parking".
  • I saw a notice in the paper announcing their marriage.
  • There's a notice outside the building which says 'No admission before 12 noon'.
  • He attached a notice saying 'Wet paint!'
  • I stuck the notice (up) on the board.
  • The notice outside the cinema said 'Closed on Wednesday'.
  • Can you read what that notice says?

Longman Dictionary has only one example of NOTICE + VERB

  • The notice on the wall said ‘No smoking’.

The American Heritage Dictionary has no examples

Macmillan Dictionary has no examples, except when the subject is a person

  • Have you read the notice on the board about overseas scholarships?

Collins Dictionary has two examples

  • Notices in the waiting room requested that you neither smoke nor spit.

  • ...a notice which said 'Beware Flooding'.

The verb read is not collocated with notice in any of the examples cited above.

Does that mean "The notice reads:" is wrong? No. I consider it a very apt and formal expression, I like it, and it doesn't sound "odd" to me in the slightest but because I am used to hearing it. But good writers will often disobey rules of style, grammar, and common collocations, they'll use language in more imaginative ways. It's sometimes called poetic license. And if that includes sounding stiff and overly formal, they may well prefer recite instead of say, announce, request or read.

In light of the above, and in the spirit of creativity, instead of "the notice recites", you could also say “the notice reeled off”, especially fitting if the information conveyed is a particularly long (or boring) list of names or instructions.

reel off
1.: to tell or recite readily and usually at length
he's able to reel off the names of all the U.S. presidents, in historical order and without pausing

  • Can you clarify if your position is basically yes or no? I got a bit lost somewhere in there. // I think a person can reel off his reasons for or against something; but I don't think the paragraph or list can reel itself off by reading itself out loud. Feb 21, 2018 at 4:20
  • 1
    @aparente001 Yes. Look at "recite" and "reel off" as metaphors or personifications. If a person wants to use a somewhat unconventional, or unusual verb phrase they can do it, as long as it is grammatical, which the OP's the "notice recites" is
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 21, 2018 at 7:40

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