Re: Ending a sentence with a preposition

Subject: Re: Ending a sentence with a preposition
From: Joanna Sheldon <cjs10 -at- CORNELL -dot- EDU>
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 1996 18:56:04 -0400

Frederic (and Moshe) --

>I've seen many allusions to the "no preposition rule" in some general
>newsgroups, with a quotation from Winston Churchill (quoting from memory
>"this is the kind of arrant pedantry I'll never put up with").
>Can someone explain the rule, the meaning of the quotation, and give some
>examples or what's correct and what's wrong ?
>Please reply by private E-mail, this topic is of no interest for 99 % of
>TECHWR-L members.

I'll quote Henry Fowler (Dictionary of English Usage) whom I recommend as an
authority in such manners. (To those of you who've seen me trot out this
material before -- apologies.)

"It is a cherished superstition that prepositions must, in spite of the
incurable English instinct for putting them late [...] be kept true to their
name and placed before the word they govern. 'A sentence ending in a
preposition is an inelegant sentence' represents a very general belief. [...]
The fact is that the remarkable freedom enjoyed by English in putting its
prepositions late and omitting its relatives is an important element in the
flexibility of the language. The power of saying 'A state of dejection such
as they are absolute strangers to' (Cowper) instead of 'A state of dejection
of an intensity to which they are absolute strangers' or 'People worth
talking to' instead of 'People with whom it is worth while to talk', is not
one to be lightly surrendered."

He goes on to explain how over-Latinised grammarians tried to cure English
of its freewheeling, loose ways; then he quotes the Greats, all cheerfully
tossing proportions at the ends of their sentences: Chaucer, Spenser,
Shakespeare ("Such bitter business as the day would quake to look on"),
Johnson, Burton, Swift, Burke, Lamb, Quincey, Hazlitt, Thackeray among them....

Is that enough? It ought to do any of us.

Moshe -- I notice you carefully avoided hanging your preposition in the
midst of ridiculing the practice:

>The whole business of ending with a preposition is one about which the
>prim schoolteachers back down in NC used to make quite an issue. I
>still remember my third grade teacher, one of the vanishing breed
>of old-maid school teachers, who even corrected our Weekly Reader
>for improper grammar. We all became accustomed to speaking such
>convoluted English in her presence that conjugating Latin verbs
>was childs' play in comparison.

It seems your masters' pedantry rubbed off on you. I'd call that first
sentence pretty overweight, and I'd suggest instead: "The whole business of
ending with a preposition is one the prim schoolteachers down in NC used to
make quite an issue of."

Now that's much less prim! And much more true to English.

Joanna


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