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How can I explain to people that the phrase off of is grammatically incorrect?

I‘ve heard this phrase used a lot, especially by Americans (though they aren't the only ones).

In my understanding, off of should usually be replaced by off, as in,

I took the book off the shelf

as opposed to

I took the book off of the shelf

Am I wrong? Or is there perhaps some simple way I can explain this to most people?

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Isn't take off the phrase here, which might cause some confusion? –  Kobi Aug 13 '10 at 11:47
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It's similar to the use of "write me" as opposed to "write to me". As a non-American English speaker "write me" means to write the word "me" whereas "write to me" means to write something for me. –  soutarm Sep 2 '10 at 2:34
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Even British speakers take things "out of boxes" and not "out boxes". Nobody considers that grammatically incorrect. Why should the preposition "out" be treated differently than "off"? In America, "off of" is perfectly fine usage. –  Peter Shor Mar 20 '11 at 12:53
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@Francesca I'm about as elitist as they come, and I resent being told by narrow-minded rationalizers that I may not employ the language of Shakespeare and Shaw. –  StoneyB Aug 19 '12 at 1:07
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@Francesca What's wrong with pronouncing the 't' in often? This reminds me of a passage in Steven Pinker's book concerning a a Massachusetts controversy in which some legislators were upset that their kids were being taught by teachers with a foreign accent. A local parent responded with the observation that her kid's Bay State teacher taught the kid that 'orphan' was a homonym for 'often.' –  Merk Oct 18 '12 at 6:50
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7 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I don't know how you can explain to people in general that it's grammatically incorrect, but here is one idea: when you go to a James Brown tribute concert and the singer says "Get up offa that thing" what you could do is to trounce the security guards, climb on to the stage, pounce onto the singer, grab the microphone and say "In fact you should be saying not 'get up offa that thing' but 'get up off that thing' since 'offa' is grammatically incorrect." I'm sure everyone will thank you for your grammatical corrections.

Being serious for a moment though, it's very difficult to decide what is or is not "grammatically correct". E.g. in the UK we say "outside my house" but US people often say "outside of my house". How can you actually decide which of these two is grammatically correct? Unfortunately it's not possible since English grammar is not a science like physics but merely a description of what people actually do, and that has changed very significantly over the years. If I was teaching someone English I would definitely say "off" is correct and "off of" is wrong, but this kind of decision is based on intuition, based on the usages of educated native speakers.

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How can I explain to people that the phrase "off of" is grammatically incorrect?

You can't, because it's not.

There are thousands of examples of “off of” in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, not just in spoken English, but in magazines, newspapers, and academic journals as well. “Off of” is well-established as standard in American English. Plain “off” may be stylistically preferable in many cases, but it is simply not a rule of English grammar that if a word could be removed it must be removed. Some people seem to think that such a rule exists. It does not.

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@a_m0d, in that case I guess the answer to your original question is to decry it as one of those barbarous Americanisms, and then you can ride the lift down from your flat and walk across the car park to your car so you can put your biscuits into the boot, and be careful not to hit your tyres on the kerb as you speed away on the wrong side of the road. –  nohat Aug 13 '10 at 22:46
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Don't forget that barbarous proto-American, Shakespeare (Henry VI pt II, act 2 scene 1). –  mgkrebbs Mar 19 '11 at 22:54
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The simple answer? It is an Americanism similar to saying "Don't forget to write me" (American) as opposed to "Don't forget to write to me" (everywhere else).

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Is it really an Americanism? Or is "off" a Britishism? After all, American English, by way of number of speakers, is standard English. (I'm British, btw) –  Armstrongest Aug 16 '10 at 2:07
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I can see where you're coming from but I'd have to say that whatever came first is the original and anything after is an -ism. (I'm Australian and speak the Queen's English ;)) –  soutarm Aug 17 '10 at 2:16
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Contemporary British English is not "the original". And whatever the original was, it is no longer contemporary. Both American and British English have been deviating from their common ancestor — in different directions but by the same degree. And in many respects, contemporary American English is in fact much closer to the original than contemporary British English. –  RegDwigнt Aug 18 '12 at 23:00
    
Contemporary British English is not "the original"! No, we Brits have pinched (sorry, loaned) from the Greeks, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans ... Perhaps we need to mug up on Beaker-speak to determine what we should actually label correct English. –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 1 '12 at 19:31
    
@soutarm Forsooth! What is this barbarous tongue that thou speakest and fain call by the name of "original English"? –  Jay Oct 16 '12 at 14:03
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The phrase "off of" has a long history, which, according to the OED, stretches back roughly 500 years. If you want to consider it to be "wrong", then it certainly has a lot of staying power. Here are their quotations using "off of":

?c1450 in G. Müller Aus mittelengl. Medizintexten (1929) 116 Take a sponfull of e licour..of of e fyir and sette it in good place tyl at it be ny colde, soo as ou mayst suffryn to holdyn er-in in hand.
a1616 SHAKESPEARE Henry VI, Pt. 2 (1623) II. i. 98 A fall off of [1594 Falling off on] a Tree.
1667 A. MARVELL Corr. in Wks. (1875) II. 224 The Lords and we cannot yet get off of the difficultyes risen betwixt us.
1678 J. BUNYAN Pilgrim's Progress 49 About a furlong off of the Porters Lodge.
1712 R. STEELE Spectator No. 306. 6, I could not keep my Eyes off of her.
1720 D. DEFOE Mem. Cavalier 281, I had perswaded him off of that.
1748 S. RICHARDSON Clarissa V. xiii. 132 Biting my lip, [was to indicate] Get off of that, as fast as possible.
1775 P. OLIVER in T. Hutchinson's Diary 7 Dec. I. 581 A Rebell Pirate..taken..off of Cape Ann.
a1805 in F. J. Child Eng. & Sc. Pop. Ballads (1894) V. IX. 106/2 Aff o the weather [read wether] he took the skin, An rowt his bonny lady in.
1824 J. WIGHT Mornings at Bow St. 21 Two young men..were charged by a watchman with having ‘bother'd him on his bate,’ and refused to ‘go along off of it when he tould 'em.’
1843 T. C. HALIBURTON Attaché 1st Ser. II. xii. 210 The groom has stole her oats, forgot to give her water, and let her make a supper sometimes off of her nasty, mouldy, filthy beddin'.
1868 HARTLEY Clock Alm. in Leeds Mercury Weekly Suppl. (1895) 5 Oct., He connot forshame To lift up his een off o' th' graand.
1875 P. BROOKS New Starts in Life viii. 129 If you could have filled his pockets with gold, and feasted his hunger off of silver dishes.
1884 ‘M. TWAIN’ Adventures Huckleberry Finn vi. 45 I'd borrow two or three dollars off of the judge for him.
1909 G. GREIG Mains's Wooin' 6 He's swallowed the dictionar', min, an's tryin' to get 'er aff o's stammack.
a1922 T. S. ELIOT Waste Land Drafts (1971) 5 The reputation the place gets, off of a few barflies.
1962 F. NORMAN Guntz i. 15, I got hold of this very very old typewriter off of a friend of mine.
1974 J. STUBBS Painted Face xxiii. 284 Get off of me, will you, sir?
1990 B. ROCHE Poor Beast in Rain II. i. 44, I was hangin' around here all the time, gettin' sweet nothin' off of you.

This may perhaps be more common in American English nowadays, but it certainly didn't originate there.

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Could you please fix the formatting of the quoted text? I can't make heads or tails of it. –  coleopterist Oct 16 '12 at 13:41
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Off of does sound barbarous to the speaker of British received pronunciations but it's common (in every sene of the word) in regional dialects such as Cockney.

Perhaps grammar is a tribal mark of affiliation rather like the choice of vocabulary as in for example "toilet" vs "lavatory".

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In my opinion, if you mean to say, "off of", then you should instead say, "from". For example, "Take the book off of the bookcase", when, "Take the book from the bookcase", is preferable. As I understand it, the expression "off of", is an Americanism, but the pseudo-antonym, "on of", is rarely (if not never), found in any language as far as I am aware.

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Perhaps "on of" is never heard because there is a well established semi-antonym, onto. –  mgkrebbs Mar 19 '11 at 22:59
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"Get off of that roof!" should not be changed into "Get from that roof!" Maybe "Get down from that roof!" –  Peter Shor Mar 20 '11 at 12:56
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Or perhaps it should be "off from". "Get off from that roof" –  Steve Nay May 12 '11 at 0:17
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Or is there perhaps some simple way I can explain this to most people?

Yes, by explaining that the word of in that context, is unnecessary. It is superfluous. An unnecessary added extra. It is surplus to requirements. It adds nothing to the meaning of sentences.

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protected by RegDwigнt Aug 18 '12 at 22:54

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