The Grammarphobia Blog

With or without

Q: I’m from the Midwest and live in Connecticut. My entire family often ends sentences with the word “with,” but my husband laughs at us and says this is wrong. Is it a Midwestern thing to say, “Do you want to come with,” without really finishing the sentence?

A: I too am from the Midwest (Iowa) and now live in Connecticut. And I too grew up hearing people say, “Want to come with?” and “Shall we go with?”

But we aren’t the only ones. While the usage is widespread in the Midwestern US, it’s also common in South Africa. And it was known in England back in King Alfred’s day.

In a 1997 article in the journal American Speech, Michael Adams calls this usage the “elliptical with,” and says it’s a phenomenon that “eludes lexicographers by appearing in unexpected venues and in speech more often than in print.”

Because speech doesn’t leave a written record as print does, this usage is hard to trace. The Oxford English Dictionary has very few examples, and they’re all quite old – ranging from circa 888 to 1450.

In this sense, the OED defines “with” as an adverb meaning “in collocation, company, or association; together.” Is there a connection with the modern use of the word? Probably not. It’s more likely that today’s shorthand arose independently.

In the Midwest, as in old England, this kind of construction uses “with” as an adverb meaning “along” (“Let’s invite him to go with”). Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English records a related use of “with” in South Africa dating back to 1913 (using the example “Can I come with?”).

A similar usage is well known in restaurants, bars, delis, and diners, where “coffee with” means coffee with cream, “a burger with” means one with everything, “a margarita with” means a margarita with salt, and so on. In this kind of clipped speech, “with” is a preposition with its object omitted.

This tradition goes back to 19th-century tippling in England, where “with” meant mixed with sugar. For example, “Bring me a whiskey with” meant “Bring me a whiskey with sugar.”

In the same vein, there’s also the “elliptical and,” as in “Come on over to the house for coffee and.” Here, “and” means “and whatever goes with it.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of these elliptical usages. They’re fine old colloquialisms along the lines of “come to” (meaning to one’s senses), “do without” (without luxuries), “come by” (by our house) and “drop over” (over to our house).

Buy our books at a local store, Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.