I don't think the following sentence is correct:

"Your English is terrible regardless of where you derive."

but my elementary school English lessons have worn thin over the years. The closest I can get to an explanation is that in this case derive is a transitive verb, requiring a direct object. Am I correct or crazy?

Also, would it matter if the sentence in question originated from a speaker of British English vs. American English?

Any help would be appreciated.

  • 1
    It's also an instransitive verb meaning descend, issue or originate. So although it's a peculiar sentence, it's less so if you substitute originate.
    – Reg Edit
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 20:30

3 Answers 3


The sentence is grammatically correct as stated; but it means something quite different from what I expect it is intended to mean.

Derive has several meanings, some transitive and some intransitive. In the sentence given here, it is intransitive. The most obvious sense, if we take that at face value, is what linguists do: they derive forms of words or sentence structures from other prehistoric words or underlying sentence structures. (Of course, in the preceding sentence, derive is transitive, with a direct object; but that direct object can be left out—generalising the sentence, you can say that what linguists do is that they derive.)

So taking that at face value, it is perfectly correct to say:

Your English is terrible regardless of where you derive.

In other words, it doesn’t matter where you (who are apparently a linguist) do your derivational work—whether in the office or in the park—your English is still terrible.

This is, of course, a bit far-fetched—who in their right mind would ever find the need to say such a thing?


The more likely sense of the sentence is of course that the speaker thinks the person being criticised has terrible English, and that this is not influenced by where that person comes from.

This is a perfectly understandable, but unusual use of the verb derive. We usually say that things, words, ideas derive from other things or places—they have those other things or places as their source or progenitor. We do not usually say that people derive from other people or places. People tend to originate, hail, descend, or quite simply come or be from (people or) places. Since in this case, I’m guessing the issue is not where the person’s ancestry is, but what country the person is from, hail and especially descend are not good options: they tend to deal with ancestry rather than one’s own life span.

Another problem, which is where the sentence (if taken to mean this, rather than the linguist sense) is actually ungrammatical, rather than just unidiomatic, is that there is a preposition missing. You derive from something; likewise, you originate, hail, descend, or come from somewhere (you can also just originate somewhere, but my gut feeling says that would be more likely to be used of objects than of people).

Therefore, a grammatical and idiomatic version of the sentence—which has the added effect of being simpler, too—would be:

Your English is terrible regardless of where you are/come from.

  • 2
    Excellent stuff! But I have to say I can (just about) accept originated without a preposition. And glancing at a few entries in Google Books for "know where they originated" it's pretty obvious many others can do without from - if only because that saves ending a sentence/clause with a preposition. Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 23:03
  • Thanks for taking the time to clarify that, and point taken concerning the inclusion of the context in which the sentence was delivered.
    – user92142
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 10:00

"Your English is terrible regardless of where you derive."

As Janus Bahs Jacquet said, if you interpret "derive" as an intransitive verb meaning "do some process of derivation," that can take an adjunct describing the place the action is done ("I derive in the park") this could be grammatical.

However, I doubt that is what you meant, so this is a bit of a detour from the main question. Presumably, you meant "regardless of where you come from." And I don't think "regardless of where you derive" in this sense is any more grammatical than "regardless of where you come": for me, both of these are ungrammatical.

From what I understand, "derive" and "come" are not classified as transitive, because they do not have a direct object. But as far as I can tell, each of these verbs does require the argument describing its origin to be preceded by the preposition "from." (The verb "come" can also take other arguments preceded by other prepositions to describe the destination of the movement.)

To me, "originate" seems different because it can be followed by prepositional phrases starting with prepositions other than "from" that are easier to replace with "where." I don't know how to explain this very well, but for example, "This originated in the Western Hemisphere" is grammatical while "*This came in the Western Hemisphere" or "*This derived in the Western Hemisphere" are not grammatical (under the same interpretation; sure, you can imagine different interpretations where these are grammatical, but then they mean different things).

And it seems to me that prepositional phrases starting with "in" can generally be replaced with a bare "where" ("She walked in the park." --> "Where did she walk?"), whereas prepositional phrases starting with "from" generally can't ("She walked from her house. !-> *Where did she walk?")

  • Your English is terrible, depending on where you integrate is less nonsensical, by the same token.
    – choster
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 5:05

It is a grammatically correct non-congruent and ambiguous statement.

It is akin to saying

Your driving is terrible regardless where you read

Regardless where you read
  • your Master's degree?
  • your copy of Harry Potter?
  • your morning news?
  • your driving instructions?
  • the theses of quantum mechanics?
Regardless where you derive
  • your solution to the mathematical problem I gave you?
  • your ancestry?
  • your ethnicity?
  • your next bottle of biodiesel?
  • your resolution to the conflict between the single and double slit phenomena?

Regardless that read and derive can be of zero subject valency (valency zero = intransitive), such usage is usually deliberately hurtful, by deliberately being unspecific and ambiguous, using words in an unusual manner.

IMO, such usage is intended to invite a blank stare, so as to imply, "Hah, your intellect is too shallow to know what I mean. It's your turn to guess the correct answer."

If not hurtful, then pompous to speak in manners of which other people probably have any scant idea. Which I did slightly demonstrate - what single/double slit phenomena? What conflict?


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