“This commands respect. But you should keep in mind that you are sitting next to a person of the same sort. And I must tell you that I have not been instructed by the Politburo to convince you to join the Communist Party.” (Reported speech quoted from The New York Times)

According to a book I'm reading, one convinces another of something, not to do something.

But on the most important Anglophone newspapers there is a plenty of occurences of "convince [him, her, us, ... ] to [verb]" which convince me to believe that that book is uncorrect.

Please, explain if there is a better form to write the above sentence, for example using "of", rather than "to", so that the valid fragment would become "... convince you of joining the Communist ...".

  • When was that book written? – snailplane May 12 '13 at 14:38
  • @snail, edition I have is dated 1998. – user114 May 12 '13 at 14:45
  • You should stop questioning what is written in the book, and start refusing to understand the bizarre English-like language used in those so-called Anglophone newspapers. – Kaz May 12 '13 at 16:14
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    Convince you of joining is a very old and now obsolete construction, equivalent to convict you of ..., meaning 'establish that you are guilty of'. Don't use it! – StoneyB on hiatus May 12 '13 at 17:18

Convince to VERB is a fairly recent innovation: OED 1 does not acknowledge it even in the 1987 Supplement. The earliest uses I find on Google Books are 1920 and 1927, and it is rare until the 1950s. A correspondent to Merriam-Webster's Word Study in 1954 complains:

Another usage that jars me, and that seems to be becoming frequent in Pennsylvania and New York, is that of "convince" in the sense of "persuade," e.g., "She convinced him to clean the cellar," or, "She convinced him to stay." I have had it in student papers and have heard it in conversation for over a year now.

But despite continuing pushback from various "authorities", by the 1970s convince to VERB is found in all registers, including academic histories and literary studies.

It's a dead issue now: you may without impropriety convince someone to do something. (But you still convince them of a fact.)

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I agree with what has been answered before, and in particular I support the idea that "persuade" is better than "convince" when it is followed by an infinitive.

I'd like to add a similar expression, although I don't know whether it would be more, less or equally used than "persuade someone to do something", and that is "to get someone to do something". It's an expression which is frequently presented to learners of English along with other forms such as "make someone do something" or "let someone do something", which in Italian would all roughly sound the same, "far fare qualcosa a qualcuno". Obviously, only the first one could be used instead of the expressions you quoted.

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  • Hey Paola, +1. I'm happy to see you are following ELL everyday. We are doing a great work here to create great community. Stay with us! We need teachers of the English language. – user114 May 12 '13 at 22:06

Maybe the guy who wrote the book thinks that one persuades rather than convinces someone else to do something, but they're reasonably interchangeable synonyms. The distinction may exist for purists of one sort or another, but for most native Anglophones, I'd venture to say that there is none.

Google Ngrams shows more instances of persuade to do than convince to do, but that's true as well for persuade to believe versus convince to believe. Convinced me of gets substantially more hits than convinced me to, but that began to change around 1990.

People who cavil about such distinctions are usually merely expressing their personal preferences rather than talking about real semantics and usage.

There's a difference between arguing about the distinction between "there were less people here today" versus "there were fewer people here today" and the "persuade/convince" distinction. However, the distinction falls on deaf ears for those who are young (they weren't taught the difference) and those who argue that whatever the lowest common denominator among native Anglophones say is the "real language", kinda like Sarah Palin's "real Americans". It's all politics.

Ignore the book's author, unless he or she has a convincing argument one way or the other. Is that the case? I doubt it.

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    The reason they are reasonably interchangeable is because when you persuade someone to do X, that means you have convinced them that doing X is a good course of action. – Kaz May 12 '13 at 16:18

"persuade to" is entirely clear and conclusive: a person is persuaded to follow a particular course of action.
"convince" relates to a state of mind. It is therefore appropriate "to convince somebody that he or she should do something", but "convince to" is simply not English.

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I would think of it as being short for "I would like to convince you (of the fact that you ought) to do something"

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