How to use “inform” and “notify”

These words are very common in legal writing, but unfortunately few people know how to use them correctly. Here are a couple of common mistakes:

WRONG
The Contracting Party hereby informs of selecting the most favourable offer.
RIGHT

The Contracting Party hereby gives notice of selecting the most favourable offer.
The Contracting Party hereby announces its selection of the most favourable offer.
The Contracting Party hereby declares its selection of the most favourable offer.

WRONG
I, Monica Dupont, domiciled in [-], hereby notify of my intention to sell 39 (thirty-nine) shares in the Company’s share capital.

RIGHT
I, Monica Dupont, domiciled in [-], hereby give notice of my intention to sell 39 (thirty-nine) shares in the Company’s share capital.

In these examples “inform” and “notify” cannot be used because you must “inform” or “notify” somebody about something. It is incorrect in English to “inform” or “notify” something and omit somebody. This is because these verbs require two objects. Grammarians call such verbs “ditransitive” verbs.

So in the above examples I have exchanged “inform” and “notify” for the verbs – “give notice of”, “announce” and “declare” – verbs which only require one object.

If you want to use “inform” or “notify” you MUST use two objects in your sentences, as shown below:

We are pleased to inform you that your application has been accepted.

Please notify us of any change of address.

In these sentences the underlined text is the direct object and the bold text is the indirect object.

In Slavic languages it is possible to use the equivalents of these verbs with only the direct object, and omit the indirect object. In English you must have both objects.

More examples:

WRONG
If a Party fails to inform about a change of address, deliveries made to the address last known by the other Party will be deemed effective.
RIGHT
If a Party fails to inform the other Party about a change of address, deliveries made to the address last known by the other Party will be deemed effective.

WRONG
The Company must notify any amendments to its articles of association.
RIGHT

The Company must notify the Regulatory Authority ofany amendments to its articles of association.

SUMMARY

If you use “inform” or “notify” you MUST have two objects in the sentence (something AND somebody).

If you do not include somebody in the sentence (i.e. there is no indirect object) you have to use different words:
Instead of “inform” – e.g. announce, declare, give notice, state
Instead of “notify” – e.g. give notice [in advance], report [after the event]

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2 Responses to How to use “inform” and “notify”

  1. Graham says:

    Hello
    Is ‘informing a document’ incorrect?

    Such use of ‘Inform’ seems to have become fashionable in recent years (unless its become a ‘thing’ that I notice? I might jump on the bandwagon if it is correct!? ha

    The ‘somebody’ (a body / human?) you refer to above is not evident??

    An example (maybe not the best) I just read …

    The Magna Carta informed the 1789 American Constitution and still bares weight in British and American legal and political societies today.

    Thanks
    Graham

  2. Thanks for the comment Graham. You’re completely right. You can use “inform” this way as well. However, in this case, “inform” means something like “influence” rather than “tell”, and it is not ditransitive – so it only requires one object. Here is another example:
    “His experiences in the Far East informed his later work as a novelist.”

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