Pied-Piping: Grammatical Movements in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Pied piping
Examples of (a) pied-piping and (b) preposition stranding in English (Preposition Placement in English: A Usage-Based Approach by Thomas Hoffmann. Cambridge University Press, 2011). Richard Nordquist

In transformational grammar, pied-piping is the syntactic process by which one element in a clause drags other words (such as prepositions) along with it.

Pied-piping is more common in formal written English than in speech. Contrast with preposition stranding.

The term pied-piping was introduced by linguist John R. Ross in his dissertation, "Constraints on variables in syntax" (MIT, 1967).

Examples and Observations

  • "Pied-piping [is the] construction in which a preposition is moved to the front of its clause, just before its object. Examples: To whom were you speaking?; With what did they hit it?; The shop from which I bought my gloves. As can be seen, this construction is rather formal in English; the more colloquial equivalents are Who were you speaking to?; What did they hit it with?; The shop (which) I bought my gloves from, with preposition stranding."
    (R.L. Trask, Dictionary of English Grammar. Penguin, 2000)
  • "In her yard she had an old catalpa tree of which the trunk and lower limbs were painted light blue."
    (Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King. Viking, 1959)
  • "We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned."
    (V for Vendetta, 2005)
  • "Identity attachment is defined here as the extent to which people consider their group membership to be an important part of how they see themselves."
    (Deborah J. Schildkraut, Americanism in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • "Rehearsals, in the current ethnographic context, are defined as any musical occasions during which band members pay self-conscious attention to their manipulations of instrument bodies for the purposes of producing correct sounds."
    (Simone Dennis, Police Beat: The Emotional Power of Music in Police Work. Cambria Press, 2007)
  • "The interim report is also understood to have found that a student misidentified a member of staff about whom concerns were raised."
    (Martin Wall, "Investigator’s Report Criticises Stewartscare." The Irish Times, February 26, 2014)
  • "Lawyers and bankers . . . are the gatekeepers of power in a society based on large corporations, most of whose shares are owned by other corporations such as pension funds, insurance companies, or unit trusts, all of which are modern legal creations."
    (Christie Davies, Jokes and Targets. Indiana University Press, 2011)
  • Pied Piping vs. Stranding
    "Pied piping (i.e. preposition+relativizer) in relative prepositional constructions is [a] feature that may indicate formal speech. Stranding of the preposition is usually looked upon as less formal where variation between the two constructions is possible (see Johannsson and Geisler 1998). . . .
    "A good representative of a male letter writer who uses pied piping constructions is Lord Byron. In all 18 of his prepositional constructions, piped piping occurs. In 13 of these, there is a choice between pied piping and stranding.
    I have gotten a very pretty Cambrian girl there of whom I grew foolishly fond, [...] There is the whole history of circumstances to which you may have possibly heard some allusion [...]
    (Letters, George Byron, 1800-1830, p.II, 155)
    Stranding, on the other hand, is more frequently used by female letter writers (37%) than by male letter writers (15%). In example (39), which is from Jane Austen's letters, it is possible to see variation between pied piping and stranding.
    He was seized on saturday with a return of the feverish complaint, which he had been subject to for the last three years; [...] A Physician was called in yesterday morning, but he was at that time past all possibility of cure---& Dr. Gibbs and Mr. Bowen had scarcely left his room before he sunk into a Sleep from which he never awoke. [p. 62] [...] Oh! dear Fanny, your mistake has been one that thousands of women fall into. [p.173]
    (Letters, Jane Austen, 1800-1830, p. 62, 173) (Christine Johansson, "The Use of Relativizers Across Speaker Roles and Gender: Explorations in 19th-Century Trials, Drama and Letters." Corpus Linguistics Beyond the Word: Corpus Research From Phrase to Discourse, ed. by Eileen Fitzpatrick. Rodopi, 2007)
  • One of the surprising mysteries of grammar is the existence of Pied-Piping, the fact that the grammar machine may move more than is initially needed: 4. (a) a picture of whom did he see
    4. (b) who did he see a picture of . . . Note that, in principle, the same distinction, less contrastive intuitively, is found in cases like: 4. (c) who did you talk to
    4. (d) to whom did you talk. (Tom Roeper, "Multiple Grammars, Feature Attraction, Pied-Piping, and the Question: Is Agr Inside TP?" in (In)vulnerable Domains in Multilingualism, ed. by Natascha Müller. John Benjamins, 2003)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Pied-Piping: Grammatical Movements in English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/pied-piping-syntax-1691627. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Pied-Piping: Grammatical Movements in English. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/pied-piping-syntax-1691627 Nordquist, Richard. "Pied-Piping: Grammatical Movements in English." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/pied-piping-syntax-1691627 (accessed May 29, 2023).