That’s Unheard Of!

Everybody does it. Besides that, it’s not wrong. In fact, sometimes it can be a beautiful thing. No, I’m not talking about that! I’m talking about ending sentences with a preposition.

In the name of supposed grammatical correctness, how many ungainly sentences must we watch perambulate down a paragraph like a teenager with limbs too big for his body? As I’ve said here, the purpose of grammar is to assist clear, effective, powerful communication. And if grammar gets in the way of that, get rid of it. (Or would it be higher quality communication to title this blog, “That is something of which we have not heard?”)

As to everyone doing it, such well-known stylists as H. L. Mencken and Mark Twain did it. Even a stickler like Lynne Truss did it in Eats, Shoots and Leaves when she asks, “So how should you use the colon, to begin with?” (p. 115).

Perhaps she was echoing Dickens. For goodness sake, the very first line of A Christmas Carol is, “Marley was dead: to begin with.”

Clearly this pseudo rule about prepositions must be classified as one of those “Stupid Things You Were Taught in School.” Richard Nordquist quotes nine grammar authorities from over the last century who put the kibosh on this mythical prohibition.

So where did it come from? Garner’s Modern American Usage says this:

The spurious rule about not ending sentences with prepositions is a remnant of Latin grammar, in which a preposition was the one word that a writer could not end a sentence with. But Latin grammar should never straightjacket English grammar. If the superstition is a “rule” at all, it is a rule of rhetoric and not of grammar, the idea being to end sentences with strong words that drive a point home. That principle is sound, of course, but not to the extent of meriting lockstep adherence or flouting established idiom.

English, of course, is not Latin in its origins. It’s Germanic. So get over it.

Why, then, does the myth persist? Now that’s a mystery to contend with.

I am off for July. So I’m running some favorite Andy Unedited blasts from the past. This was originally posted June 1, 2010.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.