Friday, September 23, 2005

What you can end a sentence with

A preposition. Really and truly. A learned Language Log linguist, Geoffrey Pullum, says so in a post this week. If you don't believe me, go read it yourself.

The short version of the story is that we can blame John Dryden for getting ranty about ending a sentence with a preposition, way back in 1672. Dryden gave no rationale for his judgment, and in fact ended sentences with prepositions in his own writing. A century after Dryden, a grammarian picked up the idea, and gradually other grammarians started to preach it, too. And today, of course, plenty of people who consider themselves educated writers meticulously strive to torture their sentences to put prepositions in highfalutin places, peppering their writing with pointless whiches.

You want to know where you can stick that preposition? You can stick it right at the end of a sentence. Really. It works. Let me show you: "What are you waiting for?" See? Compare that to "For what are you waiting?" Ick. "I couldn't find what you were looking for." Compare what the New Yorker web site will tell you if your search query comes up empty: "I'm sorry I couldn't find that for which you were looking." Eww! (The latter was what spurred Pullum to write his defense of putting prepositions where they naturally belong.) I've always enjoyed the tortured construction, "up with which I will not put"—I forget where I first read that one.

7 comments:

Suzanne said...

Thanks for debunking this annoying myth. Next up: why it's okay to split an infinitive! (Hint -- English isn't Latin. Discuss.)

parodie said...

Oh oh! More myths to bust: why it's okay to use "me" (and not "I" as taught by grammarians) in most situations where people do so naturally. (Again, because English isn't Latin...)

Orange said...

Remember that song from a couple years ago? "No, no, no, don't pass me over. No, no, no, don't pass me by. See I can see good things for you and..." I? NOOOO! It should be "for you and me." And don't get me started on "just between you and I." Not to mention the stiltedness of the nominally correct "she's older than I" (short for "she's older than I am"), sounding so much worse than "she's older than me, and I won't let her forget it."

We must split infinitives when the alternative is worse. Star Trek: "Boldly to go"? No. "To go boldly"? No. "To go where no man had gone before, and to do so boldly"? No. "To boldly go"? Sure, why not? It's understandable, it flows, it doesn't confuse the message or force the listener to tease out the meaning from a convoluted formation.

What's awesome is that I can wield my grammatical preferences when I do editing assignments. I'm like this crazy new-wave grammar maverick. Okay, maybe not.

DoctorMama said...

Oh, the many many songs with "to you and I" or "between you and I" -- AARGGH! Definitely one of my pet peeves. It's the trying to be grammatical without having a clue that's so painful. (And are those people thinking that everyone else is saying it wrong?)

Orange said...

No, the clueless goofballs don't think the people who are right are saying things wrong. They don't even hear it.

Nate Wazoo said...

The phrase "up with which I will not put" is WInston Churchill, referring to ending a sentence with a preposition ("that is nonsense up with which I will not put"). And split infinitives are perfectly acceptable in English, or at least were until the 14th century when grammarians drew a false analogy from Latin, and assumed that since an infinitive verb ("to blank" in English) is one word in Latin (say, errare, or "to err"), then it shouldn't be separated in English.

The rebuttal? English isn't Latin. Whoa.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, because ending sentences with prepositions is where it's at.

Ewww....