English is full of confusing words. If you’re not dealing with a confusing set of homophones or homonyms, you’re trying to understand the difference between two words with incredibly similar meanings, like convince vs. persuade.
What is the Difference Between Convince and Persuade?
While many writers use convince and persuade interchangeably, there are distinctions in meaning that careful writers and speakers try to preserve.
Today, I am going to outline the traditional differences between these two words and give you a few tips to remember the difference between them. I will go over their definitions and use example sentences along the way.
After reading this post, you should be able to easily answer the question to anyone who may ask, “Should I use convince or persuade?”
When to Use Convince
Convince functions verb and is defined as cause (someone) to believe firmly in the truth of something.
- But it would take her three and a half months, five court hearings, three letters from her landlord and a copy of her lease to convince the judge. –The New York Times
- A 40-year-old St. Louis woman isn’t dead, but she said she spent months trying to convince credit reporting agencies that she’s alive. –Washington Post
- If you’re not convinced that the other side is trustworthy, you’re going to try to limit their scope of action as much as possible. –The New Yorker
Convince comes from a Latin word meaning, “conquer, overcome.” To convince someone of something is to present facts, logic, arguments, etc., that cause said person to believe the truth of something. In other words, when you are convinced of something, you “conquer” or “overcome” you previous beliefs.
For example, you might be convinced that fishing is fun. Or convinced that the sun is the center of our solar system.
The key takeaway is that convincing is limited to the mind. I am convinced of the truth of something, but I am not convinced to do something. This is the traditional distinction between convince and persuade.
This also means that you shouldn’t use an infinitive to follow convince. For example,
- He convinced me to take the leap.
In traditional usage, convince should not be used with and infinitive. That is where persuade comes into play.
When to Use Persuade
Persuade also functions as a verb and is defined as cause (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument.
- It wasn’t easy, but I persuaded him to do the right thing.
- I persuaded him to apply to both colleges.
- The Senator persuaded members or either party to side with him on the upcoming vote.
As you can see, one persuades someone to do something, but one convinces someone of something. I might persuade you to go skiing with me, but I convince you that it is a good idea.
Persuasion leads to action, while convincement stays in the mind of those convinced.
Which Word Deals With Emotion: Persuade or Convince?
It is sometimes said that a person is convinced by an appeal to reason or logic and a person is persuaded by an appeal to feelings or emotions.
This is not necessarily true. Both convincing and persuading can be done through arguments and reason. As I said above, the key difference is between action and nonaction, not what is being appealed to.
Are These Words Interchangeable?
Above, I have outlined the traditional distinction between these two words. The question then is, “Is this distinction still observed?”
It is by a few, but the numbers are growing less and less with each passing year. In his language change index, Bryan Garner labels persuade vs. convince as “stage 4,” which means the mixing of the two words is ubiquitous but it’s still preferred to make the distinction.
I, personally, prefer the distinction, so I choose to keep at it, but I know most people don’t notice, so, if I were you, I would not be overly worried if I used persuade when I meant to use convince.
Remember the Difference
The difference between these words—remember—has to do with action vs. nonaction.
You persuade someone to do something.
You convince someone of something.
You can remember this because persuade has to do with action, and both of those words have an “A” in them.
Convincing has to do with the mind, and both of those words have an “I” in them.
Do I use convince or persuade? Of course, that depends on the context of your sentence and your audience, but these words are becoming more and more interchangeable every day.