Reader MP writes:
A question came up at work about the syntax of something that struck some of us as odd.
The context is fairly technical – it’s one of a series of captions for a diagram. The full set of captions is (approximately) this:
1. System admin creates role
2. System admin sets role permissions
3. Developer requests to assume role
4. [ProductX] returns role session credentials
5. Developer updates folder using role credentials
In this context, role, permissions, credentials, and even assume all have precise technical meanings. The oddity is in the syntax of “requests to assume.”
I’ve run it by editors (a lot of them), and although many people agree that that it sounds odd, no one has been able to pin down exactly why. In fact, a couple of people have come up with examples that would seem to support the pattern of request + infinitive:
AHD5 apparently has an example “… requested to see the evidence firsthand”
MW unabridged has an example “… requests to be excused from the ungrateful task”
Any thoughts or insights?
My suggestion: It's a matter of probability.
The wordform requests occurs 6,798 times in the COCA corpus. In a random sample of 100 that I checked, 94% were nouns. With an infinitival complement, the proportion of nominal uses is apparently even higher. There are 653 instances of the sequence requests to, and in a random sample of 100, 100 of the requests were nouns rather than verbs. A quick scan over all 653 turned up only two verbal uses:
Ironically, in assuming the disadvantaged position of a woman, the narrator astutely requests to be read as a cultural authority.
Supervisor Tom Ammiano requests to be listed as a co-sponsor, and says, "[…]"
In these two cases, the interpretation of requests as a noun is impossible or at least strongly disfavored, e.g. by the preceding adverb in "astutely requests".
It's common to modify the noun requests in this construction with another noun denoting the requester, as in these examples from COCA:
Nonsmoker requests to smokers to refrain from smoking are often stressful, […]
March refused police requests to interview him or his children.
It would also make junk e-mailers comply with all consumer requests to be removed from their lists.
He said it has also refused agency requests to separate operations at Natanz, […]
So perhaps the pattern Developer requests to […] primes readers strongly to expect that requests will be a plural noun, while the rest of the context requires them to interpret it as a 3rd-person singular present verb form.
I don't have a lot of confidence that this explanation is correct, but it covers the ground.