After Justice Gorsuch was sworn in, he gave a speech that included this line:

And to the American people, I am humbled by the trust placed in me today. I will never forget that to whom much is given, much will be expected. And I promise you that I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great nation.

Source: Business Insider

While the intended meaning was clear, I contend that this is incorrect. I believe it should be: I will never forget that from whom much is given, much will be expected.

Both "it was given to him" and "it was given him" are acceptable. But it's not acceptable to drop the "from" in "it is expected from him."

Am I correct?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Apr 23 '17 at 21:36

No, this is an ungrammatical reformulation of the biblical quote. The section "whom much is given" is a free relative clause (a relative clause with no antecedent noun). It's the object of the preposition to. It represents a person and we can substitute it with the simple pronoun "him" to get a sense of the clause -

  • "to him much is expected"

Or to put the parts of the larger clause in their normal order -

  • "much is expected to him"

As you can see, this is gobbledygook.


The grammatically correct sentence may be

Of the one to whom much has been given, much is expected.

However, as one of the comments noted, it is a quotation from the Bible, and the Bible was not originally written in English (gasp), so some of the more wooden translations of it still have this grammatical anomaly and others similar to it.

[Edit: It turns out that the common way that sentence is quoted is not the way it's written, even in English. Compare Luke 12:48 in the King James Version:

 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

Notice the words of him in the quotation.]

  • I agree that your suggested sentence is fine. Regarding your second paragraph, can you give an example of a Bible translation of Luke 12:48 that contains "to whom much is given, much will be expected" or something with similar grammar? I searched and didn't find it in any of the usual ones. The King James version has "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." – herisson Apr 11 '17 at 23:43
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    @sumelic it may be a common misquotation. Even the KJV says, "unto whom much Is given, of him shall much be required." I would just have continued to rely on my faulty memory of the verse if you hadn't asked. – Brian J. Fink Apr 11 '17 at 23:58
  • "But da worka guy dat donno wat his boss like um fo do, so he do someting bad, his boss goin ony punish him litto bit, cuz da guy neva know. So, if God give you everyting you need fo work fo him, you betta do um good job fo him." – Jeremy Mar 15 '19 at 14:37

"To whom much is given, much will be expected" is ungrammatical, but Gorsuch doesn't seem to be the first person to have come up with this particular kind of mangling of the quote. Mark Liberman posted a Language Log article about this saying in 2007: "The Tangled History of a Mangled Maxim", which gives examples of similar formulations in quotes from George W. Bush ("To whom much is given, much is required"), John F. Kennedy Jr. ("To whom much is given, much is expected"), and the Gates Foundation ("To whom much has been given, much is expected").

Liberman made an earlier post ("Ungrammatical Timeless Truths") with some discussion of why so many speakers might use ungrammatical forms like this:

My current guess is that we encounter fused relatives in historical sources -- Shakespeare, some bible translations, and so on -- and we grasp the intended meaning without being able to process the form (in the unreflective psycholinguistic sense, not the draw-the-tree-on-the-blackboard sense). From this experience, we learn that there's a sort of grammatical get-out-of-jail-free card given to high-sounding old-fashioned sentences in which relative clauses serve as noun phrases. Thus if you come across such a sentence, you should figure out what it ought to mean, and not worry too much about how it gets there.


To make it grammatically parallel and not get tangled in direct and indirect objects, it seems it would have to be:

"From him to whom much is given, much will be expected."

Because it certainly appears correct if arranged this way: "Much will be expected from him to whom much is given."

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