Re: that/which, prepositions, split infinitives

Subject: Re: that/which, prepositions, split infinitives
From: Tom Pearsall <TPearsall -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Sat, 17 Dec 1994 15:37:19 -0500

Re: that/which, prepositions, split infinitives

That/which: "That" almost always introduces a restrictive clause. "Which"
can go either way--restrictive without the comma, non-restrictive with it.
Therefore, you help make the distinction clear if you reserve "that" for
restrictive and "which" (with the comma) for non-restrictive. See the usage
entry at "that" in the American Heritage Dictionary for a good explanation
with examples.

Prepositions at the end of sentences: As several list members have observed
quite correctly, the "rule" about not ending sentences with prepositions came
about when Dryden rewrote some of his earlier work and "Latinized" it. In
general, you should fearlessly use a preposition at the end of a sentence
when not to do so would produce an awkward sentence. L.M. Meyers in "Guide
to American English" says it well: "A preposition at the end of a sentence
is legitimate except where it is unnecessary, and admirable if it avoids an
inversion involving 'which' or 'whom.' Thus, 'That is the one I was looking
at' is (at the very least) as good as 'That is the one at which I was
looking.' But 'That is the house where I live' is damaged by adding 'at' at
the end."

In H.W. Fowler's "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage," you can find this
observation: "The fact is that the remarkable freedom enjoyed by English in
putting its prepositions late & omitting its relatives is an important
element in the flexibility of the language. The power of saying. . . 'People
worth talking to' instead of 'People with whom it is worth while to talk' is
not one to be lightly surrendered." Several list members defended the
stricture against prepositions at the end of sentences by saying they favored
"old-fashioned English." Fowler wrote the above sometime between WWI and
WWII, considerably before most of the list members were born.

The stricture against split infinitives is another "rule" that resulted from
the attempts of 18th century writers and grammarians to force English grammar
into Latin grammar. I like the following from Wilson Follett's "Modern
American Usage": "[The split infinitive] should be used when it is
expressive and well led up to. Long before Fowler's defense of splitting,
[G.B.] Shaw had delivered the controlling opinion: 'Every good literary
craftsman splits his infinitives when the sense demands it. I call for the
immediate dismissal of the pedant on your staff [who chases split
infinitives]. It is of no consequence whether he decides to go quickly or to
quickly go.' "

The fact is that a good many superstitions about usage float about in
people's heads (but these days in very few books on grammar and usage). At
the bare minimum, every writer (technical or otherwise) should have the books
I've used here on his or her desk. Such books resolve a good many usage
questions. Also, most writers find them entertaining and occasionally even
amusing as well as useful.

Tom Pearsall

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