I was looking through the bregman-arie/devops-exercises repository on GitHub when I saw this question:

What is APIPA?

...with this answer:

APIPA is a set of IP addresses that devices are allocated when the main DHCP server is not reachable

So, here is the question: isn't there the prep. "to" missing after the word "allocated"?

P.S. I've seen a lot of English text on the net that confused me with missing (at least, seemingly to me) prepositions used with passive voice verbs. Is forgetting a preposition after a verb is just a common mistake in English or I somehow missunderstand the rule by which prepositions should be placed in passive voice?

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    In that sentence, the IP addresses are given to the devices. If you wrote it "addresses that devices are allocated to" that would mean the devices are designated as belonging to the addresses instead of the addresses belonging to the devices... The active voice would be "The server allocates a set of IP addresses to the devices". I don't have time to write a complete answer right now, but I hope that helps a little.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 31 at 14:05
  • Devices are allocated an IP address. [The grammar is fine]. It doesn't need to. But, if you make it fully passive, it becomes: IP addresses are allocated to devices. [However, the explanation is not great]. So, the text you found is grammatically correct. The verb allocate does not require to all the time.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 31 at 18:48
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    @Lambie So based on your "fully passive" sentence, the definition could be reworded APIPA is a set of IP addresses that are allocated to devices when the main DHCP server is not reachable That seems a lot clearer than the original, although after reading a bit, the entire definition seems a bit suspect. "Automatic Private IP Addressing (APIPA) is a feature in operating systems (such as Windows) that enables computers to automatically self-configure an IP address and subnet mask when their DHCP server isn’t reachable."
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 31 at 19:20
  • @ColleenV Yes, right and yes, suspect and yes to that final quote.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 31 at 19:34
  • In any event it's "technical English" with conventions that might not match non-technical expectations (e.g. rigorous usage of "SHALL" etc.). It might be clearer if expressed as something like "APIPA is a set of IP addresses from which a device may select when a DHCP server is not reachable". However, RFC 3927 is definitive: APIPA is strictly a Microsoft term from their "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" era. Commented Feb 1 at 10:48

3 Answers 3


There's a potential difference in meaning depending on whether we explicitly specify the preposition in contexts like the OP's example.

a set of IP addresses that devices are allocated [to]

With to, it means devices are allocated to addresses, but without the preposition it means addresses are allocated to devices. In practice, because of the "one-to-one" nature of the assignments between inanimate elements, this is a "notional" difference that doesn't really affect the meaning. But with a slightly different example, the difference becomes crucial. Consider...

We studied the plantations that slaves were given [to]

...where the present or absence of to completely reverses the meaning. With to, it means the slaves were given / assigned to work on the plantations. But without the preposition, it means that the plantations were given to the slaves. It's obviously less likely, but I'm sure at least sometimes slaves were given ownership of the place where they were previously forced to work.

  • People don't seem to care so much any more about the old rule that sentences should not end with prepositions, but adhering to that does lead to more clarity (and more verbosity) in cases such as this. For example, "the plantations to which slaves were given" vs "the planattions given [to] slaves". Commented Feb 1 at 15:36
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    @JohnBollinger: I'm in my dotage, but with a degree in English. And I don't think I've ever encountered even an antiquated text genuinely promoting the "rule that sentences should not end with prepositions". But over a lifetime I must have heard and read thousands of instances of people mocking such an obviously ridiculous idea. Probably starting with my English teacher back in the 60s quoting the "rule" - then trotting out the ...pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put! line usually attributed to Churchill taking issue with his proofreader's "corrections". Commented Feb 1 at 15:48
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    Merriam-Webster provides this commentary: "Ending a sentence with a preposition (such as with, of, and to) is permissible in the English language. It seems that the idea that this should be avoided originated with writers Joshua Poole and John Dryden [....] the idea that it is a rule is still held by many." That many do take it to be a rule (even if they are willing to flaunt it) correlates with my own experience. Commented Feb 1 at 16:36
  • @JohnBollinger: Each to their own. If you still think up with which I will not put is "observing" rather than "flaunting a rule", I won't try any harder to convince you otherwise. Commented Feb 1 at 18:02
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    @justhalf: I may have overlooked something, but offhand I can't think of any relevant difference in the syntax of near-synonymous verbs allocate, assign, give, apportion, allot, earmark,... If you can understand Give John the job and Assign the job to John you're halfway there. You just need to get your head around things like I need to allocate more workers to that job, to see how we can often "invert" the syntactic roles of "agent" and "patient" (verb "subject" and "object") in such "one-to-one" relationships. Commented Feb 2 at 11:24

In this case, no, because allocate can take a direct object. An address can be allocated a device, or a device can be allocated an address. Here, APIPA is allocating devices addresses.

The sentence is in the passive voice. So, the devices are allocated addresses, and it’s telling you which addresses.


In this case, definitely not, because in the subject domain, devices are not allocated to IP addresses; IP addresses are allocated to devices.

A clearer phrasing might be:

APIPA is a set of IP addresses that are allocated to devices when the main DHCP server is not reachable

As written, it's fairly obscure syntax, albeit intelligible to most native speakers, where devices is the indirect object in the phrase "that devices are allocated" (the direct object is the word modified by the phrase, addresses).

  • Actually in this case, neither are allocated (assigned) to the other. Rather, the IP addresses are allocated (reserved) from the range of all address for the devices.
    – Bergi
    Commented Feb 1 at 23:12

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