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The “Don’t End a Sentence on a Preposition” Rule Doesn’t Make Sense

I’m sure that I’ve written about the “don’t end a sentence on a preposition” rule before. But I’m not sure when that was.

So let’s address it again, starting with this very firm, very factual stance:

The “don’t end a sentence on a preposition” rule is wrong.

It's wrong, and it's silly. And, when adhered to, it can make you and your writing look wrong and silly as well, if by “silly,” we mean:

  • Odd

  • Antiquated

  • Unapproachable.

If none of those are your goals in blogging or business writing, then stop bending over backwards to keep your prepositions in what you’ve been told is their proper place.

Whoever told you that is wrong.

Not to mention silly.

Before, I called it silly. But let’s get real: The “don’t end a sentence with a preposition” rule is flat-out stupid. It always has been, and it always will be.

Why? Because we speak English, not Latin.

If that sounds like a really bad argument, I understand. However, it’s actually the exact misunderstanding that led us to mangle the English language the way we have.

Don’t take my word for it though. The following excerpt is from none other than in an article titled “Can You End a Sentence With a Preposition?”:

… Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, some notable writers (aka Latin-obsessed 17th-century introverts) tried to make English grammar conform to that of Latin...

The word ‘preposition’ ultimately derives from Latin prae ‘before’ and ponere ’to place’. In Latin grammar, the rule is that a preposition should always precede the prepositional object that it is linked with: It is never placed after it.

According to a number of other authorities, it was the dramatist John Dryden in 1672 who was the first person to criticize a piece of English writing (by Ben Jonson) for placing a preposition at the end of a clause instead of before the noun or pronoun to which it was linked.

This prohibition was taken up by grammarians and teachers in the next two centuries and became very tenacious. English is not Latin, however, and contemporary authorities do not try to shoehorn it into the Latin model. Nevertheless, many people are still taught that ending a sentence or clause with a preposition should be avoided.

Not to say I told you so, but… I told you so.

With all that said – I told you so and all – there are still certain situations where it is appropriate to use the “don’t end a sentence with a preposition” rule. Like this excerpt from my upcoming novel, Proving America:

There’s the sound of receding footsteps while another flash of lightning lashes out, illuminating the backyard above and beyond the still-burning fires around the city. Without my consent, my imagination substitutes the following house-shaking thunder with a firing cannon.

I close my eyes and wretch again, though precious little comes out this time. And as the rain keeps coming down, I think I’m soaked through to my soul.

“It happens to the best of us, Slasen,” Oden says from the safety of the doorway. “You’ve nothing of which to be ashamed.”

Notice that last line. Notice how Oden doesn’t say, “You’ve nothing to be ashamed of.” Notice how odd and antiquated it sounds as-is.

That’s because Proving America is historical fiction set in 1814, and I want my characters to accurately sound like they’re from a time before English speakers wised up to the silliness of twisting their prepositions to mimic a bygone era.

[Editor’s Note: Who knows. Maybe the preposition problem is why Latin is a dead language now.]

If you want to sound like you’re battling the Brits in the War of 1812 like my novel character, then go ahead and "Latin" it up. Otherwise, it’s time to step into the 21st century already.

It’s true we’re far from perfect today. But at least we know how to classify the “don’t end a sentence on a preposition” rule – which is silly, at best.


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