Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ending Sentences With Prepositions

First off, apologies for the long silence.  During the gap between this post and the prior post I changed jobs and bought a house.  Life has a crazy way distracting one from such pleasurable pursuits as blogging.  A big thank you to everyone who has been checking back for new posts and to all of those who have found the blog useful.

Today, let's talk about ending sentences with prepositions.  Your English teacher told you not do it.  Your textbooks told you not do it.  But, is this really a rule that you should follow?

It turns out that  a sentence ending preposition is a rather divisive issue.  Increasingly, people are questioning this basic rule of grammar.  The argument usually centers around the fact that avoiding a preposition at the end of a sentence really has nothing to do with the English language.  This practice comes from Latin.  Encouraging people to write this way produces a style that is closer to the style of Latin.  This is undoubtedly true.  

As many of you know, English has several roots, but the lexicon is primarily derived from Anglo-Saxon and French words.  French is a direct descendant of Latin.  Throughout the history of Modern English (and still persisting today) is a stigma against the blue collar Anglo-Saxon words.  Latin derived words are perceived as more intellectual and indicative of the upper class.  J.R.R. Tolkien was frustrated by the use of the word "autumn" (French) when there was a perfectly good word for the same concept, "fall" (Anglo-Saxon).  This is fodder for a separate discussion.  For now we just need to remember that this stigma exists and that several of our grammar "rules" exist to perpetuate this stigma.

Still, I'm not sure that this is reason enough to throw out this particular rule.  Is structuring a sentence like Latin such a bad thing?  In my opinion, a better argument against this rule is the fact that it applies only to written English.  I rarely end a sentence with a preposition when I'm writing, but, mindful as I am of the rule, I often break the rule when speaking.  There's something mildly unsettling about that kind of division.

In the end, what should you do?  That is, of course, up to you.  My advice is to try following the rule.  Like any rule of grammar, if you break it, break it consciously.  Being more mindful of how you are structuring your sentence can't be a bad thing.