Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

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John Kent

Senior Member
Korea - English
Hi everyone!

I have a question that has puzzled me for a long time. There is a phrase, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." (the phrase comes from Genesis 3:19: By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.") If I rephrase it as "Dust unto dust returns," does it convey the same meaning with "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust"? Many thanks!
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    It actually comes from the burial service in the (Church of England) Book of Common Prayer (and is preceded by 'earth to earth'). It of course refers to the passage in Genesis. I suppose you could paraphrase it that way, with that verb implied in 'dust to dust'. But there's no verb in the original, so you might instead think of it as 'we commit earth to earth' (using the verb immediately before this part), or 'we return earth to earth', or some such.
    Last edited:

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    It might be helpful to quote the original. This is from the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer (1662), which will be the basis for any English literature (from England) written from the mid-seventeenth to late twentieth century. The wording is now slightly different (and burials are now relatively rare), but the key phrases remain. I expect Cranmer's 1662 version is little changed from 1552, but I have not checked. I also expect the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was used as the basis for services in other protestant churches in English-speaking countries around the world.

    The Order for The Burial of the Dead

    Then, while the earth shall be cast upon the body by some standing by, the Priest shall say,

    FORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.​
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