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I'd like to understand when to use "to rally + noun" and when to use "to rally to + noun".
For this purpose, I prepared the following examples:


oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
(1) The country hastily rallied its defences.
my variant:
(2) The country hastily rallied to its defences.
What's the difference between them?

oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com (from the section "Extra Examples"):
(3) BBC leaders rallied to his defence.
my variant:
(4) BBC leaders rallied his defence.
What's the difference between them?


oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
(5) Many national newspapers rallied to his support.
my variant:
(6) Many national newspapers rallied his support.
What's the difference between them?

ldoceonline.com:
(7) an attempt to rally support for the party
my variant:
(8) an attempt to rally to support for the party
What's the difference between them?

3 Answers 3

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"Rally" is a transitive/intransitive verb: it can either have a direct object or not. In your examples, the versions without the preposition "to" are transitive, while the versions with the preposition "to" are intransitive. This changes the meaning significantly!

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives the relevant definitions as "to muster for a common purpose [or] to arouse for action" (transitive), and "to come together again to renew an effort [or] to join in a common cause" (intransitive).

This means that in general, one or the other of these usages will be correct in any given context. Some sentences syntactically could take either, but the results won't be interchangeable: they will have different meanings.


So, for your examples:

1. "The country hastily rallied its defenses." Correct - the meaning is that the country organized its defenses.
2. "The country hastily rallied to its defenses." Possibly correct, but less likely - the meaning is that the country organized around its defenses.

3. "BBC leaders rallied to his defense." Correct - this means that BBC's leaders came together to support him.
4. "BBC leaders rallied his defense." Technically correct, but unlikely meaning - this would imply that "his defense" is an actual team of some kind (legal, maybe?) instead of just referring to moral support or public endorsement of [him]. It would also imply that this team was failing in its efforts until the BBC leaders stepped in!

5. vs. 6. has the same distinction as 3. vs 4.

7. "An attempt to rally support for the party" Correct - refers to an attempt to recruit people, or at least their time and investment, for the party.
8. "An attempt to rally to support for the party" Unlikely - refers to a (presumed unsuccessful?) attempt for people to come together around some not-well-defined place, event or ideal which supports the party.

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    I don't understand why "to rally support" in "an attempt to rally support for the party" means "to recruit people, time and investment". You say "his defense" in "BBC leaders rallied his defense" is a team. Therefore, "support" in "an attempt to rally support for the party" is supposed to be a team too. Why is it not so? Thanks.
    – Loviii
    Dec 24, 2023 at 23:53
  • @Lovii I was interpreting "defense" in 4. as definition 4a here: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/defense and not as definition 1a, which would normally be more common. The reason for that is that otherwise "defense" would be an abstract concept, which isn't something one can "muster for a common purpose or arouse for action." For your example 7., "support" can refer to people (as they can be "mustered for a common purpose") or by extension, to their involvement [time and investment] which is the "action" in "arouse for action." Dec 25, 2023 at 4:43
  • More generally, if you're using the transitive meaning of "rally," the direct object should normally be a concrete noun and not an abstract noun. Dec 25, 2023 at 4:44
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    @Lovii If it were, "to rally the support for the party," then it would have to refer to people who already support the party. Without the definite article, it could mean a "call to action" for people who already support the party, or a "muster" of people who weren't previously involved. Dec 25, 2023 at 16:29
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    @Loviii Come to think of it, it seems to really boil down to the distinction between the preposition "to" and the infinitive-marker "to". "Rally to support for the party" sets the reader up to expect the word "to" to be the infinitive marker, but then the preposition "for" forces "to" to also be a preposition. I think this is what's called a "garden-path sentence," where the reader is made to interpret an ambiguous construction one way, realize they're wrong, and then go back and re-interpret it. Dec 26, 2023 at 21:03
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If A rallies to B's support then it is A who are directly supplying the support.

For example "Many national newspapers rallied to his support." would imply that they published favourable articles or attacked his opponents in print.
If "Many national newspapers rallied his support." It is more likely that they arranged / encouraged / financed others to help / support him, for example by paying his legal costs.
This is not a hard and fast difference and there may well be overlapping actions. but in general to implies direct support, and without to it implies indirect support.

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rally has both transitive and intransitive uses.

To rally someone direct object, transitive means to encourage or rouse them to take united action towards some goal.

Activists rallied the community in an attempt to have the new airport runway flight path diverted so that planes taking off and landing would follow the river instead of flying at low altitudes directly over their homes.

To rally intransitive followed by a complement expressing an end, means to unite in order to achieve the end.

The community rallied to have the new airport runway flight path diverted so that planes taking off and landing would follow the river instead of flying at low altitudes directly over their homes.

The difference is that in the transitive use, the direct object, here "the community", is being roused to some end, and in the intransitive use, the subject, here "the community" is rising up of its own accord.

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  • Nice answer! I think this one makes the clearest distinction between the two different usages. Dec 26, 2023 at 0:34
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    @QuackE.Duck I wanted to avoid going down the rabbit hole of trying to describe the nuanced difference between a not quite idiomatic utterance and an idiomatic one. I took the easy way out and made up my own sentences. :-)
    – TimR
    Dec 26, 2023 at 1:39

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