English language Uncategorized

“Live in” help

Q: I was taught that, since we say “I live in New York City,” we should also say “This is a great place to live in,” not “This is a great place to live.” What do you recommend?

A: Many (perhaps most) English speakers these days commonly drop the “in” from the verbal phrase “to live in” in certain constructions. For example, people commonly say things like “San Francisco is a wonderful place to live,” but never “I’d like to live San Francisco.”

The late Gordon R. Wood, who was a professor emeritus of English at Southern Illinois University, wrote about this phenomenon back in 1966. In an article in the journal American Speech, Wood said this about dropping “in” (technically, a verbal particle) from the phrase “to live in”:

“What seems to happen is that the speakers pass the point for inserting the verbal particle in the interior of a sentence and then they become aware of it as a ‘preposition’ which supposedly, according to rule, cannot end a sentence. Rather than break the rule, they erase the verbal element and leave the listener (at least this listener) with an uneasy feeling about the sense of what has been said.”

He pointed out that the practice was often heard in the cliché about “making the world a better place to live.”

Since Wood’s day, it’s become commonplace to omit “in” when the phrase “to live in” comes at the end of a sentence. These days it doesn’t raise many eyebrows and it’s become standard practice. Wood’s theory that a reluctance to end sentences with prepositions led to this practice may or may not be correct. But it’s an interesting speculation.

By the way, that old taboo about prepositions is a grammatical myth. I’ve referred to it several times on the blog, including this entry.

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