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Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Friday: Green living.

23 June 2011

Where Have All the Prepositions Gone?

I've been meaning for a couple of weeks to write about prepositions, and in the great traditions of JEFritz, I actually went out and did some research.

And no wonder, with all this
confusion going on.
This all started because a Facebook friend non-apologized for ending a sentence with a preposition. I said that it's not actually a rule in English, someone else disagreed, and so I went on a quest to find out. And here's the bottom line: When you're hanging out with the Grammar Nazis, it's probably best to quietly duck out and find a better party.

No, seriously: Grammar Girl says not to end a sentence with a preposition if the preposition is unnecessary (her example is, "Where are you at?", in which the "at" is already implied and need not be spoken). Tina Blue of Homestead.com says to do whatever sounds natural. Jack Lynch of Guide to Grammar and Style says re-word if you can, but not to the point of making your sentence sound all clunky. Grammar Mudge more or less agrees, saying to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition if there is a "graceful alternative".  Cliffs Notes says, basically, go ahead. Daily Writing Tips actually says "Go ahead." Dr. Winford James has a lovely linguistic explanation that involves the relevant noun phrase making an invisible copy of itself, since the noun in this instance must do double duty as a subject of a sentence and object of a preposition. If you only want to click on one of these links, this would be my recommended one. One of his examples is "The topic wasn't worth speaking on", which could be logically re-worded to be, among other things, "This is a topic on which I will not waste my breath" (that's my re-word, not his). But, what "the topic" in that sentence has done is move to the front, so the sentence is to be understood as "The topic wasn't worth speaking on (the topic)".  Which would be redundant and silly if actually written out.

Among the sources cited is some discussion of phrasal verbs ("cheer up", "run over", "write out"), which appear to end in a preposition but don't, because the preposition is now part of the verb. And then there are prepositions that double as adverbs that can throw people off because they appear incorrect but aren't.

The over-arching advice that I read many times over, however, is this: If you are in a formal writing and/or speaking situation and your writing/speaking my be read/heard by someone who believes in the "no final preposition" rule or the aforementioned Grammar Nazis, then it's time to re-think, re-word, or scrap the sentence and start over. Otherwise, in blogs, Facebook, casual conversation, non-Nazi parties, or that soon-to-be bestselling novel you're writing, carry on and have some fun with it.

Were you taught not to end a sentence in a preposition? (I wasn't, by the way.) Do you do it? Avoid it? Not care one way or the other?

9 comments:

Jenny said...

Confession: When I was in high school, I scored nearly perfect marks in English, but I was flying by the seat of my pants! I have what I call a "parrot brain". This basically means that I quickly learn the correct way to say or write something and imitate it, whether I actually understand the process or not. I would flunk every test question now, if I had to dissect sentences and tell you what the parts where called, where they went, and why they went there.

Because of my "parrot brain", I can also imitate accents with little to no effort, which seems to offend and amuse people by turns. But I digress...

I make no apologies for generally having an above average intelligence (though that makes me sound like an insufferable know-it-all). I am constantly learning and growing, though, and I know that I don't know all of the grammar rules.

Biggest pet peeves: double negatives, use of the word "ain't", use of the word "don't" rather than "doesn't", and lack of punctuation.

Some days I'd like to be able to go through my facebook feed with a red pen. LOL :)

....Petty Witter said...

Grammar nazis - what a wonderful term and hopefully not something I am guilty of.

I think it is one thing to be able to use the correct grammar when needed but I'm not too disturbed by the lack of it on FB and blogs etc. Its text speak that really annoys me.

mybabyjohn said...

I can barely remember the grammer we learned in public school. What does irritate me is when I hear some say, "also, too" or "them one's". Now THAT drives me insane.

Su said...

@Jenny: I, too, would like red pen for Facebook.

@Petty: I don't even understand text speak!

@mybabyjohn: Redundancy is not your thing, then?

JEFritz said...

Ha. I've been a good influence on you.

I don't remember ever being told not to end a sentence with a preposition. Either way, it's not a big deal for me. It's just not my writing style.

Liz said...

I had a grammar...um...perfectionist for an English teacher in 10th and 11th grades. She didn't spend much time on ending sentences with a preposition. (She spent a lot of time on commas, though. A. Lot. Of. Time.)

I don't pay much attention to the preposition problem. If I'm writing formally, then I might become aware of it, but usually, no, I'm not. And it doesn't much bother me otherwise.

Su said...

@JE: Yay for good influences! Apparently I do it enough that I have to go through my academic papers and hunt the things down.

@Liz: Oh, yeah, I had a comma-loving instructor, too. One of my H.S. classmates informed me earlier that we did, in face, have a teacher who hyped over prepositions, but I still don't remember it.

Carol Riggs said...

Heehee, I've probably been called a Grammar Nazi, myself. I do try to avoid ending sentences with a preposition. Usually I can reword to avoid it so no one is "offended." LOL But if it sounds more natural--especially in dialogue!--I say go for it. Sometimes it's more convoluted to avoid it.

Su said...

I'm definitely a Grammar Nazi, but this is one of the things I don't care about. In other people, that is, as I've been known to make my sentences all wonky to avoid doing it myself (although as previously mentioned, I've lost that habit somewhere along the way).

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