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It suffices

This came over the transom:

Have you ever weighed in on "suffice" or "suffice it" to say? The "it" drives me nuts, and there seems to be a generational divide over this.

Suffice it to say is a legacy of our old but attenuated friend, the subjunctive mood. It is the subjunctive form of it suffices to say. A fuller version of the expression would be let it suffice to say, but longstanding usage has clipped and inverted it.

Interestingly, contemporary usage has curtailed it further, into suffice to say, so that to some ears, the it sounds wrong. Bryan Garner rates suffice to say in the third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage as “widely shunned,” but I think he may be mistaken in gauging how widespread the expression has become.

The subjunctive in English survives in such stock expressions. It can also be found in statements contrary to fact (If I were czar of language ...), demands or commands (The czar orders that he buy Garner on Language ), suggestions and proposals (The czar recommends that she be directed to consult Garner before inquiring), and statements of necessity (The czar thinks it essential that they be apprised of shifts in usage).

The subjunctive used to be more widely used, but, Best Beloved, it is not coming back. Would God that you resigned yourself to that.

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:01 AM | | Comments (14)
        

Comments

The whole thing seems needless, like "let me tell you this" or "here's what I have to say about that."

I have NEVER heard "suffice to say." Suffice it to say, I will have my pearly pink ears perked up for it now. Will we all be saying "'Nuff said" soon?

And I continue to cling to my beloved subjunctive.

I've always heard - and used- "suffice to say." I shall continue to do so. Anyway, the "it" sounds and looks silly."

Usage is a fascinating thing. I honestly can't recall ever hearing "suffice to say," and I never would have imagined that anyone actually preferred it and considered the traditionally correct form silly or irritating.

I have never heard "suffice to say," but always "suffice it to say." Like Dahlink, I am fond of the subjunctive, and were it ever to disappear entirely, I would find myself the poorer.

What role does the 'it" play? If you consider "suffice" as an abbreviation for "sufficient" there is no need for the "it" anyway. I too adore the subjunctive, especially in Latin, but the "it" is unnecessary. And it does look and sound silly. Someone has limited imagination.

Thanks...that suffices.

Patricia the Terse, it has nothing to do with the imagination and everything to do with what any one particular ear finds pleasing. To borrow a motto from Dining@Large, de gustibus non est disputandem. I suggest we agree to disagree.

Patricia, the 'it' is an anticpated subject of the verb 'suffice', standing for the nominal clause 'to say (that) ... which is postposed for the usual reasons. Nothing to do with euphony or logic, or 'sufficient'.

Cingram, I stand corrected. Thanks for a better explanation. (Although I do like euphony ...)

What? Why would one consider "suffice" an abbreviation for "sufficient"? One is a verb, the other is an adjective.

I've never consciously heard "suffice to say," but I'll keep an ear out.

Suffice is possibly a corruption of sufficient, which isn't uncommon in English. Would you say "sufficient it to say?" In any case, "Sufficient, already!"

I don't like the "it" either. Suffices (with an s) to say sounds best to me and further makes sense from it suffices to say. Additionally, suffices does mean to be sufficient so it is sufficient (or suffices) makes sense.

the explaination regarding the usage of 'suffice' is intelligible to a learner learning english as a second language.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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