LawProse Lesson #220: Is the verb “cite” transitive or intransitive?

LawProse Lesson #220: Is the verb “cite” transitive or intransitive?

Is the verb “cite” transitive or intransitive?

For most of its history, the verb cite (dating from the 15th century) has been a transitive verb; that is, it takes a direct object. For example, a lawyer cites a case or a police officer cites a driver for a traffic violation.       I could cite plenty of authorities for that assertion, including dictionaries right up to the latest Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate (11th ed. 2011). That book, not known for being a stickler when it comes to rolling with the flow on changing usage, still lists cite as a transitive verb only.      But since the late 1990s, legal writers have started to insert the superfluous preposition to after the verb, thereby making it intransitive. So they no longer cite cases, but cite to cases.   This newfangled usage is not merely verbose; it irks traditionalists who think that you should “cite cases to a court” or “cite the record,” not “cite to cases” or “cite to the record.” (Believe me, it’s a pet peeve among a fair number of judges.) The object of cite should be the authority cited, not the person to whom the authority is cited.       Here at LawProse we encourage you to inoculate yourself against this linguistic virus. The way to do that is simply to start noticing the usage whenever you see or hear it and not repeat it. Further reading: Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 158-59 (3d ed. 2011). Garner’s Modern American Usage 153 (3d ed. 2009). The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style § 12.3, at 259 (3d ed. 2013).

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