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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally

Example sentences from the entries for "recommend" in three English-Japanese dictionaries:
She recommended me to try this oil for sunburn.

I recommend that you (should) give up smoking. =I recommend you to give up smoking.

She recommended me to consult a lawyer.
Is this "recommend somebody to verb" pattern grammatical English? It sounds unnatural to me. Hits for it can be found on the Web, but at least one language-education Web site identifies the pattern as "wrong." The pattern doesn't appear at all in most learners' English-English dictionaries, which cover fairly comprehensively and correctly all the normal sentence patterns for their headwords, but the Macmillan English Dictionary does offer the pattern "recommend sb to do sth" and gives this example sentence: "Students are recommended to read the following books." Is it significant that this example is in the passive voice?

Trying to decide whether or not to recommend the deletion of this pattern from an English-Japanese dictionary and not feeling confident either way, I recalled how such issues of grammaticality were solved in a class in syntax that I took from James McCawley at the University of Chicago in 1979. His method was to take a vote of the students in the class as to whether particular English sentences were grammatical or not. Some of the votes were close and some of the voters were not native speakers of English, but nevertheless he would propound syntactic rules--variations on Raising, as I recall--based on that shaky evidence. I hope that I can do better for the dictionaries I work on, but I wonder.
(March 21, 2003)