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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Voting on "send" without an object

In my recent post on ungrammatical wordings in some English Bible versions I cited as being ungrammatical examples such as:
I sent to find about about your faith.
Two readers of this blog responded saying that such sentences where the verb "send" lacks an object sound grammatical to them. I once again was reminded, as I have been in the past, that something that sounds ungrammatical in my dialect (or, perhaps more personally, my idiolect) may sound grammatical to others.

I thought it would be fun as well as informative to poll visitors to this blog over the question of whether the above sentence sounds grammatical to them. So there is a new poll on this blog just for that. It is the first poll in the right margin of this blog and it has a green background.

It would also be helpful as we evaluate the results of the poll to know what dialects are represented in the poll results. There was no way for me to include that question in the poll design, so after you vote in the poll, would you be willing to add a comment to this blog post, telling what dialect of English you speak? Dialects could be: Canadian, Canadian Maritimes, British RP, British Cockney, Welsh English, Irish English, Nigerian English, American Deep South, American Midwest, Australian, New Zealand, South African, India, etc. Don't feel limited to this list. You can make up a dialect label of your own.



At Thu Jun 16, 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

American Midwest

At Thu Jun 16, 12:10:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Wayne, I have not voted because, although the sentence is perfectly comprehensible and does not sound "strange" I cannot think of an example from real life! BTW I'm what you call British English RP

At Thu Jun 16, 12:13:00 PM, Anonymous Steve Miller said...

I voted yes, it sounded grammatical, but I must add that I have a strong sense that the subject of this sentence sent a message to find out. In other words, the object is strongly implied.

I also sense that this is an older use of the word, though I would have to check to see if that were true.

I must also add that I've read the Bible regularly since I was a child, and am very familiar with this text. I may or may not vote the same way if the text was from a different source.

At Thu Jun 16, 12:14:00 PM, Anonymous Steve Miller said...

BTW, I speak Michigan English.

At Thu Jun 16, 12:22:00 PM, Anonymous Peter Kirk said...

British English, more or less RP.

See also "The Bible Translator" vol.45 no.2 April 1994 pp.228-238, an article by John Ellington entitled "Send!"

At Thu Jun 16, 01:07:00 PM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

I was raised in PA, but I've also spent many years as an adult in South Dakota, Michigan, and Indiana. So I guess my dialect is "northern American English."

At Thu Jun 16, 01:10:00 PM, Anonymous Funky Dung said...

I grew up in the suburbs of Philly and have lived in Pittsburgh for 10 years. I voted yes, but it's a rather archaic wording. The implied object is "a messenger" or "a message". We would ordinarily not speak or write this way because we have far more efficient means of communication than couriers/messengers.

At Thu Jun 16, 01:12:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I'm from New England, and it sounds grammatical, but I don't think most people I know would say it this way. It's more stylistic than grammatical. This way of saying it sounds more British to me.

At Thu Jun 16, 01:31:00 PM, Blogger Trevor Jenkins said...

Although I've read this (or similar) rendering in Bible translations it doesn't sound right to my British ears.

At Thu Jun 16, 02:00:00 PM, Blogger Paul W said...

I voted "no" because I'd never say a setence like that. And I can't think of a context (apart from the English Bible!) where it would be acceptable grammar. I speak New Zealand English.

At Thu Jun 16, 02:11:00 PM, Blogger Talmida said...


However, I have to admit to being raised by an Anglophile. My maternal grandmother was a Scot and a real snob about correct (i.e. British) English. She raised her daughters and they raised theirs the same way. We rarely saw American children's books -- only English or Canadian ones. Also, there was no American children's television here until cable came in in the mid-70s (my mid-teens).

(2 of my teenagers have just read the sentence and they agree with me, that it is grammatical. One of them thinks it sounds old fashioned, though -- "like the 60s!")

Surely whether something is grammatical is a question of fact, though. Can something "sound" grammatical? Or does is just sound wong or awkward? I think of unsplit infinitives: "to boldly go" sounds much better, much smoother, much more familiar to my ear than "to go boldly". But "to boldly go" is ungrammatical, regardless of how it sounds.

At Thu Jun 16, 02:14:00 PM, Blogger Talmida said...

Oh, another thought: if you are reading an English (as opposed to American) translation, shouldn't you use an English dictionary (such as the OED) to determine whether the usage is grammatical or common, or rare, or whatever? Just a thought. :)

At Thu Jun 16, 02:38:00 PM, Anonymous Bruce Grayden said...

I'm an Aussie, Wayne. Cheers!

At Thu Jun 16, 06:02:00 PM, Anonymous Bob Firth said...

I'm Australian. I tend to think that grammar should be descriptive (at least for universal practices), and I can't remember ever hearing "send" used intransitively so that's a no from me.


At Thu Jun 16, 06:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wayne, it doesn't cut it. My dialect is upper midwest American English -- born and raised in the Detroit area. Pat Aldrich

At Thu Jun 16, 06:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in Singapore English, u can "send someone home," meaning giving that person a ride home, e.g. after a party.

also, perhaps due to the influence of the Chinese language (of which Singapore English is sometimes characterised as a relexified form), "send" can behave as an intransitive, as in "Did u send?" "No, i did not send."

fwiw, my kneejerk 2 cts,


At Thu Jun 16, 09:32:00 PM, Anonymous Frank Gazerro said...

I voted that the sentence did indeed sound grammatical primarily because it does not sound ungrammatical.

It seems to me that though that particular use of the word "sent" sounds right, it is not very common at all in any of the dialects I have been exposed to for any length of time. I grew up in New England, near Boston, so i definitely have a lot of that in me, but I have also lived for 2.5 years in Wiconsin and one year in eastern Oregon.

I would venture a guess that the use of the word "sent" without an object may simply be an archaic usage, or an English idiom that has become archaic. With regard to translation, I personally would probably render it differently in order to make it easily understandable to the average English speaker.

At Fri Jun 17, 05:37:00 AM, Anonymous John Kendall said...

Hi Wayne,

As I indicated in my reply to your earlier post, I'm a British English speaker and I voted yes. However, while I'm convinced that this usage is grammatical (as Talmida noted earlier, it's found in the OED), after a bit more searching I'm increasingly inclined to think that it's archaic and certainly not common. Probably most of the clear examples I've found via Google occur in contexts where slaves or house-servants were part of the culture, or in military contexts where the existence of subordinates is assumed. Maybe it sounds natural to me because of my reading habits or because I've been a schoolteacher. (I can imaging saying something like, "I sent to tell the headmaster where I was taking the class." The assumed minion would, of course, be a pupil.)

Here are a number of cases that you might find interesting.

I sent to find out where he is living, and sent him his IOU to Trubin, which I paid. …. I expected you the day before yesterday, and yesterday, and now I am sending to find out where you are and what you are doing. (Eng. trans. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

Some firing around us made me suspect that it was the signal of an enemy's party. I sent to find out and one of our party having perceived the Indians fired on them. (Colonel Boquet, Letter to General Forbes, October 13, 1758)

When the gentlemen present saw that I was not answering their questions, they went off to the Lieutenant's house, and stayed there. Every now and again they sent to find out how things were going with me.
(John Gerard, Narrative of John Gerard, c. 1607)

They lit fires to pilot them in without sending to find out who they were, and thus the pirates landed in the night but two miles from the town. (Sir Thomas Lynch to Secretary Sir Leoline Jenkins, Jamaica, July 26, 1683)

I knew the sword was there because my Voices told me so; and I sent to ask that it be given to me to carry in the wars. (Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Vol 2)

I waited for half an hour - for a quarter of an hour after that - and then I sent to ask if he had forgotten his breakfast. (Wilkie Collins, Miss Jéromette and the Clergyman)

I have sent to ask if there were any packages addressed to me. (Jean Augustine Penières, Letter 2nd July 1821)

Mrs Finn had not left her carriage, but had sent to ask of (sic) Lady Mary could see her. (Anthony Trollope, The Duke's Children)

I had sent to ask him where we were to meet for a proposed ride that day. (John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens)

If you had sent to ask me, I should have gone to the play, but none of you seemed to want my company. (Mary Wollstonecraft – Letter quoted in Janet Todd, Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life)

While the matter was being talked over an embassy arrived in Peking from the king of Persia. This monarch desired to marry the daughter of Kublai Khan, the Princess Cocachin, and he had sent to ask her father for her hand. (Web article on Marco Polo)

A knock at the door brought a servant with word that tea was ready, and the Colonel had sent to ask if we were coming down. (Algernon Blackwood, The Nemesis Of Fire)

First we heard that a Montserratian, forced to move to Anguilla, had sent to ask for concessions to start a business bottling water. (Montserrat Reporter, 2003)

We have had part of our outstanding payment which was over $1000, but even though I have sent to ask why we never were sent the full amount owing, they still have not replied. (Web message board)

"You know this Kaneke brought you here, don't you, Baas, and that all those troubles which we met with, so that we could not go the road we wanted because that tribe sent to say they would kill us if we did, were made by him so that you might come to his village." (H. Rider Haggard, The Treasure of the Lake)

The Northern Government have sent to inform the Southern that they intend to reinforce the Forts, and collect the revenue. (Journal of Meta Morris Grimball, 12 April 1861)

The disaffected Indians of the Creek nation have sent to inform me they propose to pay me a visit to adjudicate misunderstandings after their Buck the later end of August. The Buck is an annual festival (after a general purification) on the ripening of the corn (Transcription of letter from Thomas Brown to Lord Cornwallis 16 July 1780)

Not finding me, he sent to tell me of his trip, that he was anxious about me, lest I might. be in need of assistance; that in that event I should draw on him for such amount as I wanted. (James Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox)


At Fri Jun 17, 09:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I voted no,for me lacks object. Michigan English (Bi-lingual Finnish mother)

At Fri Jun 17, 10:46:00 AM, Blogger Talmida said...

Send for help! Send for the doctor! Maybe we should send for reinforcements?


At Fri Jun 17, 12:53:00 PM, Blogger Wayne said...

Talmida cited: "Send for help! Send for the doctor! Maybe we should send for reinforcements?"

Nice examples, Talmida. In my dialect they are all good. From a linguistic POV, they are different syntactically from the "send to" examples.

"send for" is a phrasal verb where the preposition is acting as a particle, rather than a preposition. The verb is composed of both "send" and "for" and is transitive. Each of these three sentences you cited has a direct object, "help," "the doctor," and "reinforcements," respectively.

I suspect, as some others have suggested, that "send to" is some kind of ellipsis for "send (someone, or a message) to," so that there is am implied semantic object which is not overt.

Are we having fun yet? I thoroughly enjoy these kinds of exercises.

IMO, we have accomplished several things so far:

1. noted that there are dialect difference with re: grammaticality intuitions about "send to"

2. the poll results and I think some comments, as well, indicate some sense that "send to" is an "older" form. For some people it seems to work better in the Bible than in extrabiblical writing.

3. The verb "send" behaves differently syntactically depending on whether or not there is a particle in combination with it to form a phrasal verb. (For info on phrasal verbs, google on "phrasal verbs." I find them fascinating.

At Sat Jun 18, 08:09:00 PM, Blogger George Goolde said...

According to my dialect, which I would call cosmopolitan American, this would not be a well-formed sentence. I believe send is a transitive verb, requiring an object. It is conceivable that the object might be implicit rather than explicit, but the context would need to strongly carry the object in such cases.


At Sat Jun 25, 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous Maggie said...

This is completely ungrammatical to me - my dialect is probably Northern British (brought up in Yorkshire, but lived 10 years in the south, & married to a southerner!)


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