Q&A: Invitations, invites and RSVPing

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, it's by invitation only…

Q: Hi AWC, I have been invited to a party.

A: That’s not really a question. Are you just trying to make us feel bad?

Q: Not at all. It’s just that I’ve heard people say, “thanks for the invite” rather than “thanks for the invitation”. But invite is a verb, right?

A: Well, it’s true that you’d “invite” someone using an “invitation”.

Q: Exactly!

A: However, it’s sometimes acceptable to call the invitation an “invite”.

Q: Noooo! Why does English keep doing this to me?

A: Do you actually want an answer to that?

Q: No, I guess not. But surely, “invitation” was the original, yes?

A: You’re correct – it turned up in the 15th century, originally more to describe a challenge – likely from the Latin “invitare” meaning to summon, challenge, feast or entertain. It wasn’t until the early 1600s that an “invitation” became the actual thing that gave you permission to attend something.

Q: Maybe they just didn’t have exclusive parties before the 1600s?

A: Nope. In fact, the verb “invite” turned up in the 1530s.

Q: So the act of inviting was around before there were physical invitations?

A: Yep.

Q: Okay, I guess that makes sense. I still remember being the only one not invited to little Timmy’s birthday party – everyone else received a rocket ship invitation, but not me.

A: That’s a sad story. How old were you?

Q: Oh, that was just last month. Little Timmy goes to my gym. It’s one of those ironic names, because he benches 500 pounds.

A: Um, okay. Anyway, it might surprise you to learn that the noun “invite” isn’t much younger than “invitation”. It was first used as such in the 1650s – and both continue as nouns to this day.

Q: But one of them must be the BETTER version, right?

A: Yes. If you want to dot your ‘I’s and cross your ‘T’s, then you should select “invitation” as the noun in any formal writing.

Q: So it looks like I’m dotting three ‘I’s and crossing two ‘T’s then. 

A: That’s it.

Q: So why have “invite” as a noun at all?

A: The same reason people cut across a corner of grass instead of walking the right-angled path. 

Q: Because they’re putting in new concrete?

A: No! Because it’s quicker.

Q: Oh, fair enough. That makes more sense.

A: Most dictionaries, including Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary will have a listing for “invite” as a noun, but almost always accompanying it is “colloquial”.

Q: So you can use “invite” in casual, familiar situations or dialogue?

A: Yeah. Just best to avoid it in formal or literary stuff.

Q: Thanks for that. Well, I’d better RSVP to this invitation then.

A: RSVP of course is an initialism of the French: répondez, s'il vous plait. This translates as, “reply, if you please” and the use of it on invitations first appeared among the London elite in the early 1800s – said to have been started by French writer Pierre-Jean-Baptiste Nougaret.

Q: Ah yes, the RSVP – often used to “confirm numbers for catering” but really just designed to see if they need to start inviting people from the backup list.

A: Harsh, but fair.

Q: I’ve also seen it with the dots – R.S.V.P. Is this necessary?

A: No, without is fine. It’s also useful to know that when used as a verb, you can write either “I have RSVP’d” or “I have RSVPed” as well as “I am RSVPing”.

Q: So if only your trousers could attend, then you’d be RSVPing your pants?

A: That was very childish. But yes. 

Q: Teehee.

A: RSVP can also be used as a noun, such as “how many RSVPs did we receive” and so on.

Q: So, to sum up, “thanks for the invitation” is preferable to the informal “thanks for the invite”. However, the latter is okay in familiar situations.

A: That’s it! By the way, whose party is this invitation for?

Q: It’s for little Timmy’s sister, big Tammy. Such a tiny thing – you wouldn’t know she just had baby Tommy.

A: Well, we did ask…


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