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Paypal said, "All transfers are subject to review and could be delayed or stopped if we identify an issue."

I'm a native English speaker, but I don't know if "subject to review" means all transfers are reviewed, or if it means all transfers are under the possibility of a review?

I assume Paypal doesn't manually check each transaction, and I don't care if they do or not, but I'm curious about what the phrase literally means, regardless of Paypal's potential misuse.

I guess "subject" here is being used in the same way a peasant is a 'subject' of a feudal lord, i.e. the transaction is under the lordship/authority of reviewers?

Note: I don't care what Paypal actually does. Answers of Paypal's procedures are likely offtopic to the site and probably uninteresting to me. I'm curious about the words themselves, regardless of who spoke them.

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  • subject to X means affected by or possibly affected by X. But subjected to X is unambiguous - it was definitely X'd. Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 17:35
  • But if PayPal does actually review every transaction by some method or another, wouldn't that show how they intend the sentence to be read, or support an answer about the English itself? Although I agree that a discussion of PayPal itself is OT. Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 17:39
  • @WeatherVane: Subject to review doesn't inherently exclude the possibility that in practice they review every transaction. But it leaves it open (whereas subjected to review quite strongly implies every transaction). Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 19:10

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Cambridge Dictionary has this entry (my bolding)

subject to something
idiom

likely to experience or suffer from something
The bay is subject to heavy fog in summer.

If an action or event is subject to something, it needs something to happen before it can take place
The agreement is still subject to approval by the League's 30 teams and the players.

These are two different usages of the phrase. The first one might and the second one must, so it can't be determined from the OP's statement whether Paypal reviews every transaction or not.

But the overall meaning seems to be that PayPal does not guarantee that a transaction, once made, will be completed promptly, or at all.

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"All transfers are subject to review and could be delayed or stopped if we identify an issue."

This means that Paypal might delay or stop the transfers if they choose to do a review.

You may also see the phrase "reserve the right to", as in:

Paypal reserves the right to review all transfers and may also delay or stop them if issues are identified.

or, simply, "may", sometimes with "at our option":

We may, at our option, review any transfers and delay or stop them if issues are identified.

These are all extremely close in meaning.

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Since the context is Paypal, a legal dictionary is the place to go for the meaning. Unfortunately, it's ambiguous, but I think it's safe to say that any court would accept that Paypal has reserved the right to review transfers and to take appropriate action if the review should reveal an issue.

  1. Conditional or dependent on something. 2. Being under domination as of a authority or government subject to the whims of the boss.3. Exposed or open to undesirable or unfortunate criticism. 4. The necessity of undergoing something. 5. Liable or prone to suffer something

P.S. It looks as though that dictionary page may have been crowd-sourced, which is strange.

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  • I don't think "subject to" has a technical meaning in law that is different from that of its ordinary use.
    – BadZen
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 19:32
  • @BadZen: Inasmuch as this phrase appears in a Terms of Service document, the meaning isn't necessarily governed by standard English usage. Perhaps it would be better asked on the law forum, even if it should turn out to be the case that in contractual contexts its meaning cannot be precisely pinned down, as is the case in non-legal contexts.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 19:52

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