"A nation in which supports dependency"

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Glenn Bingham send in a link to this passage in a recent radio address by Paul LePage, the governor of Maine ("Obamacare is on Hold in Maine", 7/7/2012):

Even more disheartening is that reviving the American dream just became nearly impossible to do. We are now a nation in which supports dependency rather than independence. Instead of encouraging self-reliance we are encouraging people to rely on the government.

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Without the audio, I would have guessed that this was an editing mistake, where perhaps the speechwriter started with a different construction (e.g. "a nation in which dependency is encouraged"), and then changed the structure of the relative clause without changing the transition to it. Even with the audio, I'd lean towards that analysis. But Glenn writes:

This is the third time I have heard this orally, but it has become the standard in written English among my students in Mid-Atlantic US.

By "it" he means the use of superfluous (or at least nominally ungrammatical) pre-which prepositions — and he gives many  examples from his students' compositions:

Also let's not forget the atmosphere in which we live in.

The basic aim of moral philosophy is to come up with a standard principle on which all moral judgments are based on.

For this assignment, I chose unicorns to be my mythological character in which I am familiar with.

It is an entity in which all things came from and will come from.

Conversely, hypothetical imperatives state that there is a particular goal for which we act on.

In today's society, it seems as though there has been a large difference in the moral standards of the future generations compared to those in which many of us were raised with ourselves.

Thales believed that the substance out of which all living things came from was water.

We discussed such extra prepositions a few years ago ("A phenomenon in which I'm starting to believe in", 5/14/2007). As David Dennison and Nuria Yáñez-Bouza explained, they've been around at least since Middle English ("Back to the future, redundant preposition department", 5/4/2007); but the apparent lack of common spoken-language examples makes it seem unlikely that the flowering of such constructions in apprentice writing is a vernacular survival.

But Glenn's example from Governor LePage raises another question. Is this an isolated, perhaps careless, mistake by an over-caffeinated speechwriter? Or is it the leading edge of a new development, where extra semantically-associated prepositions are added to clause-initial relative pronouns, even when no preposition would normally appear in the relevant place in the relativized clause?

Glenn gives one student-writing example that seems to be of this type:

Empiricists believe that the mind, upon its creation, is a “blank slate” for which we fill up through our experiences and senses.

Can readers supply others? Will David and Nuria show us that this sort of thing was common in Chaucer? Are there in fact related phenomena in varieties of spoken English?

Or is this a sort of constructional hypercorrection, in which apprentice writers, unfamiliar with the grammar of un-stranded prepositions, develop some peculiar hypotheses about how the formal written language handles such things? That was my first reaction ("A note of dignity or austerity", 5/3/2007), but now I'm not so sure.

Update — here are some other perhaps-relevant examples from Gov. LePage's Weekly Radio Addresses:

Creating a sound, predictable business climate is what my administration has been focused on. Streamlining rules and regulations, including the permitting process in which our job creators must adhere by, is a step every department is taking seriously. [9/17/2011]

It is a time to think about the values in which our great Nation was built upon and reflecting on the direction our Nation is headed in. [8/6/2011]


  1. Matt G said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 9:57 am

    I've known a few people who used this construction in speech pretty regularly. When listening to them, it seemed like they were trying to sound formal or intelligent by following the "avoid dangling prepositions" rule, but they didn't really understand the rule, so they just added extra prepositions before "which" and didn't change the relative clause. I would chalk it up to misapplied prescriptivism, like "for my friend and I".

  2. Philip said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 9:57 am

    Don't forget Paul McCartney's egregious contribution:

    When you were young and your heart was an open book
    You used to say live and let live
    (You know you did, you know you did you know you did)
    But if this ever changing world in which we live in
    Makes you give in and cry
    Say live and let die…

    I always cringe at this point in an otherwise excellent track.

    [(myl) This is discussed at some length here, with links, including the question of whether it's "in which we live in" or "in which we're livin'".]

  3. Jeff Carney said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 10:16 am

    I have no examples on hand, but I've noticed my students doing this for years. I've always taken it to be a kind of hyper-correction. As they move into college, they assume that more sophisticated prose will be expected, so they adopt a register they don't fully control. I know I went through a period in college where such a description fit me.

  4. Nick Lamb said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 10:58 am

    David Crystal


    argues that the published sheet music specifically says "in which we live in" and further that it would be unexpected for McCartney to choose to drop a g there because he's a Scouser (though I don't know enough about Liverpudlian accents to know if that claim is true).

    It sounds and looks awkward to me and (outside of song-writing where even sense may be sacrificed in favour of sound) I can't see it being a lasting change to the language.

  5. Andy Averill said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 11:36 am

    I'm a little confused as to why you say We are now a nation in which supports dependency rather than independence is the same type of construction as in which we live in. They seem quite different to me — the latter has a redundant position, which the former doesn't. In fact I'm not sure I could even make a stab at diagramming the first sentence.

    [(myl) The hypothesis that the two constructions are related is Glenn Bingham's, not mine — I regard the hypothesis as plausible and worth exploring. But so far I haven't seen very many of the LePage-style constructions, and pending a larger number, it's hard to tell.]

  6. Andy Averill said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 11:37 am

    *redundant preposition

  7. Rodger C said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 11:42 am

    Andy is right. I see this construction ("in which" without even the excuse of a repeated preposition) constantly from my students. Furthermore, usually it doesn't even mean "which" but seems to be an all-purpose substitute for any subordinator whatever.

  8. NW said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 11:42 am

    Governor LePage's spoken instance makes no sense as an ordinary error. The preposition at beginning and end of a clause does – finite memory span, someone starts constructing the less familiar pied-piped structure then forgets what they've done by the end of the clause so their semantic model drops the required preposition in the natural place. But with LePage's, the verb governing the one-word subject is right next to it. Our parsers shouldn't make this sort of mistake – mistakes surely come after a delay of several words.

  9. Dan Schmidt said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 12:10 pm

    A local furniture used to have a commercial boasting of their hundreds of designs "from which to choose from". Googling reveals many more instances of this phrase.

  10. Eric said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

    This is by far the most common grammar mistake I notice in my students' writing. I'm well aware of the recency illusion, but I still find it eerie that I just made a post about this on reddit.

  11. John Roth said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

    This is weird. I use a preposition in front of which all the time, and I would have sworn the problem was the extraneous preposition at the end of the sentence. In fact, the sentences where it's the same preposition in the two positions seem acceptable, and the ones where its two different prepositions are the ones where the first occurrence (the one before the which) isn't acceptable.

  12. John Roth said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

    Governor LePage's example simply seems wrong to be, partly because it's not semantically associated. If I wanted "in which" in that sentence, the rest of the sentence simply fails. Maybe "in which we support dependency…" would work better. As it is, my ideolect says it's wrong.

  13. Andy Averill said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

    For what it's worth, English is Gov LePage's second language — he's from a French-Canadian family living in Maine. He was originally denied admission to college because his English was so poor. Don't know whether that's relevant, except perhaps that it might make him less likely to "auto-correct" any mistakes occurring in written copy that's been prepared for him.

  14. boris said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    for some reason "out of which all living things came from". In fact, I don't know how to "fix" it. If you take out "out of" it sounds weird. If you take out the "from" it becomes really horrible. The best I can come up with is taking out "out of which", but it sounds kind of informal.

  15. Brian said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

    I make this mistake in casual speech all the time. But to me, it doesn't feel like "hyper-correction"; it's just me forgetting that I put the preposition in front of the clause by the time I get to the end.

  16. Janelle B. said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

    I'm pretty sure I have lost chances at interviews due to changing part of a sentence at the last minute, thinking I'm making it better but forgetting to change a part that needs to be changed. For instance, in that last sentence I would more naturally write "needs changed," but if I remembered and put "needs changing," upon editing I may still read it as "needs changed" and think I need to put "to be" in there, resulting in "needs to be changing." In speech I just about always end sentences with the preposition, so I can see myself making the mistake the professor noted, too, if I'm in a rush. Although, I think the first example I gave with "needs changed" is more of a cognitive slip because I may not notice the error when reading aloud (like a blind spot, my eyes will see the error, but my mind will fill in the correct information, eliminating the error before I can perceive it). I'm getting better at detecting these types of errors, though.

  17. The Ridger said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

    @Brian: there are two different errors being discussed here – one is yours, the repeating of a preposition (where it could plausibly go in either place, it's put in both); the other is the governor's, the insertion of a preposition which doesn't belong in the sentence at all. The first is very common, the second I don't think I've ever seen before.

    @boris: "From out of" is (for many people) a perfectly valid string of prepositions. For my part, none of them need to be removed.

  18. The Ridger said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

    @boris: Also? "Out of which all living things came" sounds fine to me, not horrible.

  19. Ken Brown said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    Sounds fine to me as well. "…from which all living things came." also works. Or "… that all living things came from".

  20. Ken Brown said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    Sounds fine to me as well. "…from which all living things came." also works. Or "… that all living things came from".

  21. Andy Averill said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 5:56 pm

    @Janelle B, "needs changed" is a regionalism. As far as I know it starts around Pittsburgh and goes west from there. If the person you're talking is from that region, it would sound perfectly natural. But to people in other parts of the country, it does indeed sound odd.

  22. marie-lucie said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

    in which we live in, from which they came from, etc

    I remember the earlier discussion of such examples and the fact that they are attested in Middle English. I did not leave a comment at the time, but I thought that this must have been because of the conflict between French and English syntax at the time: people knowing French (or at least being familiar with hearing it) would dutifully put the preposition before the relative pronoun, but the lack of a preposition at the end sounded wrong, so they repeated it at the end.

    The use of the "preposition" after a noun and especially a pronoun was frequent in Old English and its scope was apparently widened in Middle English, especially in clauses with WH-words (relatives or interrogatives, as in Modern English). This tendency must have clashed with the influence of French, at least in writing, but never disappeared from the spoken language.

  23. Andrew said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

    As several others have commented, it seems like this could be (or be related to) a simple error in which a speaker forgets his precise formulation and changes to a similar but different one midway through – I'm particularly guilty of saying things like "I tried it once, but I can't remember whether or not I was successful or not".

    Do we know if the example supplied was off-the-cuff or a prepared address? A prepared address would get around the reason NW imagines it would not be an error, allowing plenty of time between Governor LePage or his staff casting the sentence along the lines of "a nation in which people are overdependent on government" and deciding to say instead "a nation which supports dependence" without removing the original "in".

  24. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

    From a great lyric by Alan Jay Lerner (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever):
    Hey, buds below, up is where to grow,/Up with which below can't compare with ….

  25. Chris C. said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

    The construction "where's it at?" is one of which I frequently hear from.

  26. Joyce Melton said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

    If French is the governor's first language, is their any construction in French that could help explain this error? My French is rudimentary but I know that I make ludicrous errors in Spanish from trying to translate English idioms on the fly. Little tiny flies, with racing stripes.

  27. Joyce Melton said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

    "is there" of course.

  28. Ellen K. said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

    I do think that constructions like "in which we live in" are a distinctly thing from, "in which supports dependency rather than independence" and such. It's plausible, though, that they are related in some way, though. Still, not the same thing, even if both have a superfluous preposition.

    One thing I find interesting is that in some of the examples, the two prepositions seem to, in context, be the same semantically (mean the same thing) even though they aren't the same words.

  29. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

    @Joyce Melton: Not really. The only thing I can think of is, in formal French the subject often follows the verb in a relative clause (e.g. « l'école normale dont a parlé notre collègue M. Sembat », literally "the normal school of which spoke our colleague M. Sembat", i.e. "the normal school of which our colleague M. Sembat spoke"), so whereas in English "in which supports-VERB" sounds instantly wrong — "in which" followed immediately by a gap in subject position — it might sound more plausible to a French-speaker, since in French it would be possible that the subject was simply yet to come. (But since the subject doesn't come later in this case, I don't think that's much of an explanation for the error.)

  30. Steve Morrison said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 10:59 pm

    There was a post by Ben Zimmer last year on the "needs changed" regionalism. My mother, who was from northern Kentucky, used it, but not the rest of my family (all born and raised in Cincinnati).

  31. Pensive Nomad said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

    Are descriptivists allowed to be bothered by this sort of thing? Because it's just so redundant.

  32. marie-lucie said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 11:44 pm

    Joyce Melton, Ran Ari-Gur

    Things are not always as complex as what Ran described.

    A. Basics: In Standard French it is impossible to place a preposition at the end of a WH clause, so the preposition has to be before the WH word. In English, the sentences which use the French word order are invariably more formal than the ones which place the preposition last.

    1 – Je parle à quelqu'un : À qui est-ce que tu parles?
    = I am speaking to someone :
    a – To whom are you speaking?
    b – Who are you speaking to ?

    2 – Je vais au cinéma avec X : Avec qui vas-tu au cinéma?
    = I am going to the movies with X :
    a – With whom are you going to the movies?
    b – Who are you going to the movies with?

    3 – Nous habitons dans une ville :
    La ville dans laquelle nous habitons
    = We live in a town :
    a – The town in which we live
    b -The town [which] we live in ('which' usually omitted unless after a preposition)


    B. More complex: It is true that you can have NP inversion, but that is only with a noun subject, not a pronoun. The explanation should start with a subject pronoun. Ran also chose to use dont which does not quite work the same as the other WH pronouns. So, using Ran's example:

    4. Mr S talked about a school. :
    a. The school about which Mr S talked
    b. The school [which]Mr S talked about

    = M. S a parlé d'une école :
    L'école de laquelle M. S a parlé

    Tthis sentence follows the normal structure, as in A above. The pronoun laquelle is one of a set which agrees in gender and number with the antecedent noun: it is precise, but the combination of de and this pronoun is not very elegant. Instead it is more likely to have:

    L'école dont M. S a parlé

    OR (with inversion, more literary)(not limited to the "dont" structure)
    L'école dont a parlé M. S

    The single, short word "dont" does double duty as a combination of the preposition de and one of the lequel, laquelle, etc series.

    There are more subtleties yet, but I don't want to write a grammar chapter: there are any number of grammars of French that you can consult.

    [(myl) All true — but apparently the phenomenon of preposition stranding has been borrowed into some varieties of Canadian French: see "Quoi ce-qu'elle a parlé about?", 10/10/2003.]

  33. marie-lucie said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 11:51 pm

    p.s. About Gov. LePage's error: in which might be more natural for a French speaker to use than which …. in (but not for a French speaker who had spent his life surrounded by English speakers), but the rest of the sentence would also be wrong in French, since dependency is not the subject but the object of the verb supports. In any case, inversion is literary and rarely occurs in casual speech.

  34. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 12:01 am

    Have I mentioned that the opera DJ on the local public radio station always says "To whom are we listening to tonight?" Several times per show?

    Certainly "in which we [verb] in" might be different from "in which we [something that doesn't end in 'in']". However, it could be the same. If people often use "in which" when "which" or "that" would be standard, then sometimes they'll use it when the clause ends in "in", and it will sound like a redundancy.

    @Andrew: It sure sounds like a prepared address to me, both the language and the reading. For instance, Gov. LePage accents "people" in the last clause as if it contrasted with something, instead of accenting "government" as would be natural in speech.

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    July 10, 2012 @ 1:12 am

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  36. Mary Apodaca said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 5:40 am

    It seems to me that Americans generally want to use 'which' rather than 'that' or 'where.'

    Have you read McWorther's column in the NYTimes today? He says 'linguists' want you to use bad grammar.

  37. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 6:21 am

    @marie-lucie: Sorry, but I don't really understand what your comment is trying to say. As I'm sure you're aware, pied-piping is very common, and perfectly normal, in English as well. The question is not "why might a French-speaker say 'in which …' instead of 'which-OBJ … in'?", it's "why might a French-speaker say 'in which …' instead of 'which-SUBJ …'"?

  38. marie-lucie said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 6:46 am

    Ran, probably because that French speaker is currently speaking English and is getting mixed up in his syntax just like some anglophones. I meant that the order "in which" would come naturally if the sentence had to have an "in" somewhere, but the speaker may also be one of those people who somehow associate "in which" with formality, as in other examples by English speakers given above. So his use of "in which" may have nothing to do with his French background.

  39. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 6:48 am

    I meant to add that I don't remember seeing this from my students.

  40. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 8:04 am

    @marie-lucie: Re: "So his use of 'in which' may have nothing to do with his French background": Yeah, I agree. I was just trying to address Joyce Melton's question: she asked if there was "any construction in French that could help explain [Gov. LePage's] error".

  41. KevinM said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

    I think it's a case of the speaker not thinking of the second preposition as a preposition at all. Rather, the speaker regards the verb/preposition as fused. Thus, "came from" or "live in" is a set-phrase verb. Functionally, the speaker treats "from which I came from" as being equivalent to "from which I originated"; "in which we live in" is functionally "in which we dwell."

  42. marie-lucie said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 2:03 pm


    I think you have a good point.

    These verbs are semantic units, even though they allow separation of the components. In this they resemble the German verbs such as "eingehen", etc, which are written as single words when the two parts occur concurrently even though these parts are frequently separated by other words. That's why leaving out the "in" (etc) in final position does not "sound right" to many people, and the "in" in pre-WH position seems to be an awkward addition, prescribed in formal settings but of no clear function or even meaning.

  43. CuConnacht said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

    I was seeing things along the lines of "an entity in which all things came from" (that is, preposition (usually "in" or "of") plus "which" and then verb plus the preposition that was actually meant) the last time I taught freshman composition in the US, 1982.

    I never saw the governor's type of clause, where there was no other preposition after the verb. The rule seemed to be that a which-clause in which the verb phrase ends with a preposition must be introduced with "in which" or "of which".

  44. Glenn Bingham said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

    Thank you all for insightful comments. I didn't want to influence your responses…for a while. A couple particularly caught my eye.

    I think the interplay between pied-piping and phrasal verbs is a factor in many of these cases, and I was glad to see your examples. There is a subtle difference in structure between having the Wh-word associate with the object position of a phrasal verb and associate with the object of a prepositional phrase following the verb.

    As a general note, the exploration of the relationship to French might help explain the lead example of this discussion and might shed light on the general "problem," but it does not "excuse" the number of writers I have that have almost no chance of any French interference at all, but end up with the same construction.

    @Ellen K.
    You also noticed the synonymy of the separated particles. But your observation that the lead example is different from the redundancy (syntactically and/or semantically) examples is right on the mark. I see plenty of instances where "in which" is simply substituted for "that." My thought is that it is a kind of syntactic back formation, based on some "misinterpretation" that might come to light from examining the redundancy cases.

  45. Glenn Bingham said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

    @Jerry Friedman

    You wrote: Certainly "in which we [verb] in" might be different from "in which we [something that doesn't end in 'in']". However, it could be the same. If people often use "in which" when "which" or "that" would be standard, then sometimes they'll use it when the clause ends in "in", and it will sound like a redundancy.——–

    This seems a likely analysis in the current state. It seems that "in which" is just an automatic substitution for "that" without regard to anything dangling at the end. Whether the substitution is from a misinterpretation of syntax or from trying to maintain a standard-sounding register or from something else is yet to be worked out.

  46. Glenn Bingham said,

    July 10, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

    @ The boris, Ken Brown, The Ridger conversation

    I agree that all those non-redundant forms "fix" the problem. Here is another involving a phrasal verb:

    …as silly little playthings for which men fought over…

    …for which men fought
    …over which men fought
    …that men fought for
    …that men fought over

    I appreciate all the comments.

  47. Eric Christopherson said,

    July 13, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

    Then there's Jay Z and Alicia Keys's "concrete jungle where things are made of" ("New York State of Mind").

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