Professional Style

Convince vs. Persuade

October 2008
Spot the Error

Denise tried to convince Steve to design a holiday traffic plan for the mall that would accommodate a sizable influx of shoppers.

If you want people to do things for you, you sometimes need to persuade them. The word persuade means to induce or win over by argument or entreaty, and it involves action. In the “traffic plan” sentence above, Denise is actively urging Steve to do something, so the sentence should use persuade, not convince.

Convince is more of a state of mind, and doesn’t involve action. For example:

Ellen was convinced that a surgical procedure to relieve her back pain was unnecessary.

Friends may try to persuade Ellen to change her mind [active], but if Ellen is convinced that it won’t do any good [static], her friends will be wasting their breath.

[WARNING: Grammar term ahead. Don’t panic.]

The thing to remember about proper usage is that persuade is frequently followed by an infinitive.

  • infinitive – the word to followed by a verb, such as “to design,” “to hold,” “to run,” and so on.

Convince, however, is followed by that or of, NEVER by to. So, if you want someone to do something, try persuasion.

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