Monday, July 25, 2011

End a Sentence with a Preposition?
What Would You Do That For?

If there's one thing I had too much of during my elementary school years, it was the rules of English grammar. (That may be a reason why I became a journalist, but probably a minor reason.) It seemed that - in every ... passing ... year - we had a lot of homework that consisted of diagramming sentences (boring!) and learning parts of speech.

That included learning a long list of prepositions to the tune of "Yankee Doodle" (bleccch!), which brings me to one of the rules that was hammered into our heads: Never end a sentence with a preposition. Examples:

* Who are you going to the store with?
* What are you going to write about?
* What country are you from?
* Change we can believe in! (from Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign)

So, yes, a few decades later, it's one of the grammar rules that's often broken. Would my teachers cringe or wail in anguish if they saw this today? Only if they failed to change with the times, which is a distinct possibility for a couple of them.

Writing, today, has become more conversational, due in no small part to the Internet and the quest for brevity in nearly all forms of writing as publishers fight to grab the oft-challenged attention spans of time-pressed readers. Also, writing conventions change with the times. I recently read two novels: one written 10 years ago, the other about 100 years ago. The first one was a much quicker read, the other harder because the writing isn't as succinct and to the point for today's audience.

My rule as an editor: If I see a sentence that ends with a preposition, and there isn't an easier way of expressing the writer's thought, it stays.

Now, if you want to review a comprehensive answer about ending a sentence with a preposition, here's a page I can refer you to. ;-)

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