Recently, I was asked about the validity of using the prepositional phrase off of. How viable is it for use in standard English. Is it distasteful and should be avoided? Well, generally speaking, prepositions that are superfluous to the meaning of the sentence should not be admitted in standard English writing. For example:
- Where are they [at]?
- Soak the seeds for [from] 10 to 12 hours.
- I consider the dearth of art classes [as] a great loss to our students.
- Get up off [of] the couch and watch the eclipse from the window.
BUT, “Get up off of me!” she shouted.
This is more casual, so it’s an example of perfectly acceptable usage of the phrase.
Here’s the back story
As in much of the history of the usage of English, this phrase once was standard usage, then it was lowered to the status of “illiterate.” Now it is categorized as excessive, and is least acceptable in formal and business writing.
Merriam Webster’s 11th edition explains that the of is often criticized as superfluous, a comment that is irrelevant because off of is an idiom. It is much more common in speech than in edited writing and also is more common in American English.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary , off of may have been around since the mid-15th century. OED includes some relevant citations to illustrate the authenticity of the phrase. In their Grammarphobia blog, Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman list them, beginning with the earliest (where it appears as of of):
- circa 1450, from a medical text: “Take a sponfull of the licour … of of the fyir and sette it in good place tyl that it be ny colde.”
- 1667, from Andrew Marvell: “The Lords and we cannot yet get off of the difficultyes risen betwixt us.”
- 1712, from Richard Steele, writing in the Spectator: “I could not keep my Eyes off of her.”
- 1884, from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn: “I’d borrow two or three dollars off of the judge for him.”
As a former prescriptivist (i.e., there are rules you MUST follow) turned descriptivist (1.e., it’s all in how people use the language), the use of off of is greatly dependent on your audience. What voice are you speaking in?
If you are addressing a learned audience or giving an official report, then it might be best to avoid it. Formal writing and business English are least likely to use the phrase. If you are addressing a casual audience, whose members are more in tune with a colloquial voice, use it, by all means!
As a writer, you have all rights e to use off of, if it best illustrates your argument, dialogue, or description. According to the Motivated Grammar blog On off of, “There is nothing linguistically or grammatically wrong with off of. It’s nonstandard in some dialects and informal in most.”
However, avoid using it if you want your writing to be considered formal.