Tuesday 9 February 2016

The Incorrectness of 'Off of'

I have returned to The Purple Pen to talk about the cringe making existence of the new 'fashionable' use of the term 'off of' in writing. It is popping up everywhere on the internet and in publications, and seems to be becoming acceptable. I am here to tell you it is NOT.

It is appearing much more in American English than British - meaning American indie authors, and American media, but I have seen it occasionally in British online media, and indie authors. I have yet to see it in any professionally published novels* - mainly because if a professional editor claps eyes on it, they will remove it post-haste! 

It derives from the same place as 'would of', 'should of' or 'could of' - or any combinations of that. Although it is more obvious that these are incorrect, that the 'of' is a substitute for 'have'.

The 'of' in 'off of' is also replacing a word, and that word is 'from'.

So let's look at some sentences:

He jumped off of the bus.

How would that sound if you wrote: He jumped off from the bus? Not quite right is it? you would take the 'from' out, wouldn't you?  

He stepped off of the kerb. Becomes: He stepped off from the kerb? I see you pulling a face and saying, maybe.

How about: He never took his eyes off of her face?  

Let's try it: He never too his eyes off from her face. It just doesn't work does it. It's not correct.

So neither is 'off of'. You should ban it from ALL your writing.

For me personally, if I read anything with it in, I stop reading, I can't continue. Yes, it bothers me THAT much.

It should bother you too.

For the history of 'Off of' and that it has actually existed for some time but fallen out of fashion over the last 50 years and no longer considered good practice, check out this blog post on The Grammarphobia Blog.  

What do you think about the use of 'off of'? Do you have any misused grammar, words or phrases that distract you when reading a piece?

*Sadly this is no longer true. Fleet imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, (UK), part of the Hatchette Group has published a novel called Lab Girl with it appearing 7 times! 

 Find more editing tip posts HERE.


  1. I don't think I've used this anywhere! One of my pet hates is: 'could of' - "I could of done that!" Gah! "I could have done that!" I've even heard reporters on the News say it and it grates!

    I tend to even leave the 'off' out sometimes: 'He never took his eyes off her face' turning into 'His eyes never left her face' or 'His eyes never strayed from her face.'

    1. I have also heard 'off of' used by reporters. ACK! But rewording the sentence is a good suggestion and I love your example.

  2. So far as I am aware it is Suffolk/Norfolk/North Essex dialect, which I grew up with and I am sorry to say I use it in speech, but in writing only if I'm writing an uneducated character from the correct locale. I can only assume its prevalence in America is due to the large number of East Anglian poachers transported to Virginia,carrying their linguistic foibles with them. 'I seen' is another one, and 'them old' for 'that' which I have come across from American friends. I would personally say that 'off of' doesn't represent 'off from' but that the 'of' is merely redundant. One jumps off a bus and doesn't take his eyes off her face, though that one can be he doesn't take his eyes from her face. However, it generally doesn't require a from at all. Off is sufficient.
    Be pleased you are not teaching juniors in my neck of the woods where you have to translate the written 'vem fings' into 'those things' and 'mink cums in bols' into 'Milk comes in bottles' - oh that glottal stop! Oh the letter replacement! and every now and then the idiots in the government come up with the idea that children should be allowed free expression to write as they speak, instantly rendering every county incomprehensible to every other county.
    Sorry, fell into rant mode there for a moment.

    1. I totally agree that really the 'of' is redundant, and doesn't strictly represent 'from', but I can't think why else it was put in, whereas with 'would of' at least derives from 'would've' and makes more sense.

      I am indeed only speaking about the written word. Spoken is entirely different. And yes, as I live in Holland, my children's English is very much influenced by what they listen to - currently Youtube Minecraft videos, where one likes to say 'but-uns' instead of 'buttons'. I always joking copy it, which my eldest tends to get enraged by! LOL

      And I agree about letting them write that way, the spelling my eldest (10 yo) uses in English is interesting, but then I know it is not his first language - and he doesn't have English at school for another year. But at school here he was initally taught to write without putting in spaces between words, and now I struggle to make sense of anything he writes as he has difficulty one in! I don't understand why they did it this way!

      I'm all for a good rant! ;)

  3. there's a lot of redundancy in Suffolk/Norfolk dialect whence I believe this originated - 'them ow'd' [that old], meaning 'that' with no intent to infer that the subject of the comment is in anyway aged. 'That little ow' mauther', is not a little old woman but a small girl. The use of the double negative is also common. "Dew yu be a-go-un there, Oi woudn't staart from here dew I wus yu." 'If you're going there, I wouldn't start from here if I was you.' Full of redundancies; I've often wondered if the slow country speech of an East Anglian with its excess of words is a means to slow down and so take control of a conversation with a 'furriner' [someone from 20 miles away] or the gentry who never were as broad [though reading Chaucer with a Suffolk accent is terribly revealing; his spellings fall into place.] You can't hurry a Suffolk countryman over a tale, he takes his own good time in telling it, and the more impatient a listener gets, the more roundaboutation he puts on it. I believe it has driven police sergeants questioning witnesses to nervous breakdowns. Or even "them ow mop-on-a-stick wass called hisself 'saaarjint' torkin' a load o' owd squit, fyin' out arter someat wass nobody knows."
    Incidentally, the accent of the Waveney Valley holds a fossilised pronunciation derived from old Flemish, leading to some people thinking that it sounds like South African.
    Teaching fashions are often quite ludicrous and incomprehensible. And half at least of it is politics...

    1. Those are mostly dialects and accents, although they can make their way into writing. I schooled in Leicester for 5 years, where there was 'ought' rather any 'anything', and 'bozz' rather than bus. I also lived in Kettering ('ketrin' - as they call it) in Northants for 4 years. When I moved back to London I had to refresh myself over the correct usage of was and were, because everyone used them incorrectly and I no longer knew the correct way round.

  4. I love language, even the local uses that irritate me, because it's all part of language living... I've been asked before on the difference between dialect and accent, so I'll repeat that here, dialect is what you say, and accent is how you say it. Dialect itself contains words and even grammatical construction not found in received English [or any other language with dialect]. Confusion of singular and plural may be confusion of lost grammatical differences?

    1. I might be writing 'ought' wrong, it sounds like 'out', - as in 'have you out narrower than this?' (ie. anything) In that respect the word is the dialect, as it is its own word used in the area, where as 'bozz' is a phonetic way of writing how they say the word bus - so thus an accent.

      Interesting, thanks for clarifying.

      When I lived in Bristol 'putting your daps on' meant putting your trainers on, and in Leicester 'have a cob on', meant you were in a mood - although cob was also a type of hard roll in Leicester. And then the wonderful midlands/northern? word - mardy, which just can't be translated to anything in the south (where I originate from). So all dialect.

      The mix of was and were was just a lack of understanding on the part of the users, and yes, the confusion of plural and singular. But it became part of the way they speak in that area.

  5. more like the 'owt' to rhyme with its antonym 'nowt' of Yorkshire than 'ought' or 'ort' meaning the same, pronounced differently, and usually used in a double negative fashion in North Suffolk 'there weren't ought wrong with her', there was nothing wrong with her, being straightforward enough, but also used in if asking "What was wrong with her?" to be answered "Ought wrong with her, she's hypochondriasing" [a phrase I've heard an aunt use; verbing of nouns is nothing new]
    Mardy is a wonderful word, I've used it in the mouth of a nursemaid working at Pemberley...
    I love the words of Fife. "The sky was greetin' an' girnin'" - it was raining. "Och yon shilpit wee naif is muckle partan-faced." - Isn't that insignificant little fellow ugly. Interesting, the Viking heritance of Fife means that some words from Old Norse are shared in East Anglia - staithe, a place where you tie up your boat, Haar, sea fog, smu'rr, slightly different meanings, mist with rain in, in Scotland, and a light rain that can't make up its mind if it's raining or not in suffolk/norfolk.
    I'd love to study philology properly

    1. That's what I was missing, the 'w'! LOL

      Living in Holland I find the merging of languages interesting. In Scotland they have the term 'do ya ken?' - meaning know, and the Dutch word for knowing someone is Kennen. (but only to know someone, to know something is Weten). But the Dutch are very literal in their words and they also verb nouns - tennising, footballing are all words here. But they are a nation of farmers, so they don't have call for a huge vocabulary, whereas we might have many words for one thing in English, they will have one.

  6. Fascinating! the linguistic links from older languages are always something I love discovering when I delve into etymology. [I suspect delve is a word with a Dutch parallel, I think it's OE]