Thursday, February 29, 2024

How About That ?

It's official, again, as Merriam-Webster stated in an online post that a sentence can end with a preposition. 

As someone who writes a lot, this declaration was much appreciated. Admittedly, I know I've not adhered to the former "rule" about prepositions. How about you?.

Now, the long-held authority on the English language has unleashed writers (as we all are at one time or another) from the constraints of what many have long regarded as a grammatical faux-pas. 

To be sure, dictionary publishers like Merriam-Webster are not rule makers nor rule breakers, but rather report how language is used and how people speak.

Among grammarians and lexicographers, Merriam-Webster's declarations are widely accepted. That's because for over 150 years, in print and now online, its been America's leading provider of language information.

This isn't the first time the online dictionary has tried to end the end preposition prohibition. As with many long-held beliefs, it's a tough one to dislodge with such a centuries old stronghold. 

Prepositions are common in the English language with over 150 in use, including these common ones: above, across, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, by, down, from, in, into, near, of, off, on, to, toward, under, upon, with and within.

If the ending preposition is "permissible" and "not wrong" is it right?

That depends on whether or not you agree with the Merriam-Webster declaration.

In its online post, the dictionary publisher stated: It is permissible in English for a preposition to be what you end a sentence with.

The post continued, The idea that it should be avoided came from writers who were trying to align the language with Latin, but there is no reason to suggest ending a sentence with a preposition is wrong.

The people who claim that a terminal preposition is wrong are clinging to an idea born in the 17th century and largely abandoned by grammar and usage experts in the early 20th.

Soon enough, the post ignited emphatic responses. Many of the respondents were steadfast in believing that a concluding preposition was lazy or unusual; others embraced the permission.

Why such a reaction?
Merriam-Webster touched on a heretofore grammar no-no of ending a sentence with a preposition, a restriction that many, including myself, have grown up with from primary school. That lead to finding ways to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. 

Learning there's no such rule was a big deal for some who still cling onto a long-held belief. Personally, I'm delighted to let it go. (Advance apology if you get an ear worm from the song , Let it Go,  from the Disney film, Frozen.)

Who Made This Rule & When?
This grammar issue has been a concern for years. There's dissent on how it became common to admonish those who ended a sentence with an of, to, through or with. 

The story dates to the 17th century and involves two Englishmen, grammarian and rhetorician, Joshua Poole, and John Dryden, poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright. Both men along with others wanted to make English more like Latin. 

English poet John Dryden
In 1668, Dryden was appointed England's first Poet Laureate and, in 1672, he chastised English playwright and poet Ben Jonson stating: The preposition in the end of the sentence; a common fault with him. Jonson himself wasn't concerned with this criticism, he had died years earlier in 1637.

It's a shared issue as many credit Poole with creating the rule and Dryden for popularizing it. Both men and others wanted to make English grammar more like Latin, a language in which a structurally sound sentence can't and with a preposition.

In the 18th century, some folks decided Dryden was correct and began advising against the end preposition.

Sometimes, the advice was never to end a sentence with a preposition. Other times it was more general, for instance, Noah Webster, in a 1784 book on grammar, advised against separating prepositions from the words which they govern. He conceded that grammarians seem to allow of this mode of expression in conversation and familiar writings, but it is generally considered inelegant, and in the grave and sublime styles, is certainly inadmissible.

Even though there's no reason to suggest ending a sentence with a preposition is wrong. The idea that was a rule became widespread.

By the 20th century, however, most grammar and usage guides had concluded that there was nothing wrong with terminal (end) prepositions. In fact, there has been, for about 100 years now, near unanimity in this regard from usage guides. The matter must therefore be settled, right?

Apparently, that wasn't exactly the case.

Those determined to hold onto the "rule," no matter how many times they're informed that it really isn’t one, find the end preposition so annoying. According to articles I read, they've gone so far as to contact the editor of a newspaper when they find an occurrence.

English statesman Winston Churchill
In a similar vein, many who like to use end prepositions will give some mangled version of a quote incorrectly attributed to English statesman Winston Churchill, This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put

The story goes that when an overzealous editor attempted to rearrange one of Churchill's sentences to avoid it ending in a preposition, the Prime Minister scribbled the single sentence in response. Like so many Churchill quotes, this was almost certainly never said by him, but it does make for a great anecdote.

What to Know
Not only can you end a sentence with a preposition, but there's no problem doing it. In many sentences, where it's been avoided, it would have been better to have ended with a preposition. 

If you don’t like to end your sentences with prepositions, it's OK too, just don’t claim it's a rule. Conversely, if you prefer to end sentences using with or to, that's OK too. But, don’t quote Churchill when someone says that you shouldn’t.

Merriam-Webster captioned its now controversial post: That's what we're talking about which sounds much better than: That's about what we are talking?

Merriam-Webster, Incorporated is an American company that publishes reference books and is the oldest dictionary publisher in the U.S. In 1831, George and Charles Merriam founded the company as G & C Merriam Co. in Springfield, MA. In 1843, after the death of Noah Webster, the company bought the rights to An American Dictionary of the English Language from his estate. All Merriam-Webster dictionaries trace their lineage to this source. In 1964, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., acquired Merriam-Webster, Inc., as a subsidiary. The company adopted its current name, Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, in 1982.
Happy Leap Year — From Our Pad to Yours


Tom said...

...language evolves I have trouble keeping up. Just spelling is a chore for me.

Pamela M. Steiner said...

Thank you for this excellent and refreshing post on ending prepositions, etc....I am relieved. I tend to use ending prepositions quite often, although I do try to avoid them, but sometimes it just doesn't happen that way. This is very "comforting". Now one rule that they keep trying to cram down our throats is that we no longer need two spaces after a period. I will never be able to accept that one! It just doesn't look right to have our sentences and listed items crammed up against the period with just one space between them! I will forever use two spaces after my periods, no matter what they say! LOL. My typing teacher would turn over in her grave if she knew about this change of tactics! She about wore out her red pen circling our mistakes when we forgot to leave two spaces after the punctuation marks. She was also prone to using her little ruler to smack our hands when we didn't do things some things are so engrained in my mind (and in my fingers on the keys) that they cannot be changed! LOL. Have a lovely day. This was interesting and fun as always.

My name is Erika. said...

I tend to end sentences with prepositions, even though I know, when I do it, that it wasn't grammatically correct. I'm glad that rule is loosening up and is gone. (At least according to Merriam Webster.) While I admit there is gap between written and spoken English, so many books are written with grammatical faux-pass like starting a sentence with so or but also. I think society's view of language is changing, and because language is such a fluid thing, those rules need to change also. Thanks for this interesting read, and Happy Leap Day to you also. hugs-Erika

Jon said...

The English language and grammar as we once knew it seems to be a thing of the past. So is etiquette.
Good or bad? Who knows.....

Barbara Rogers said...

Language grammar is somewhat interesting, but mainly a grueling list of rules I learned to abide by. I gladly loosen up my own writing (mainly blogs) and stop rewording some sentences to follow the preposition rule. Thanks for all the history of the same.

Jeanie said...

So much changes in languages and so quickly it's even hard to play Scrabble without looking up words because there are so many new ones. When I was working I had to be into grammar rules. Now I write much more informally and conversationally and while I try to get the rules right, sometimes it just feels a little stilted!

baili said...

Thank you dear Dorothy for adding so much into my poor knowledge.
Being non English spoken makes me little uneasy when I have to write quickly in post or comments .I feel guilty when in hurray I leave preparations.

I have been taking help from this site once in a while since many years but hardly new anything about it.
I know rules are considered ultimate reality by older people but today we know that in universe nothing is static and everything is evolving constantly because this is is how it is designed.
Thanks again for sharing things that help to settle my mind about certain facts :)

Sending best wishes for you and to all you love my friend ❤

Linda G. said...

I tend to make sure that I have a word following the word “this”. E.g. Two sentences: I am on vacation. This makes me happy. The second sentence should read This “fact” makes me happy. I don’t know if I learned this rule in school; however, I MUST include a word after the word “this”.

Sandy said...

LOL...I can still hear my Mother and my Teachers saying, you don't end a sentence with a preposition. First thing that came to mind is when someone would ask, where is it at? Well, they'be also been trying to tell us we don't need to spaces after a period..........and there's no way I'm listening to that. Thankfully most others aren't either. Only one space after a period, visually makes the sentence hard to read, IMHO. I suspect this announcement won't change the way people write. We're creatures of habit, and so will do our own thing.
Sandy's Space

MadSnapper said...

if my life depended on it and you asked me to tell you what a preposition is or to list 3 for you i would have no idea. I barely remember Senior English, 63 years ago and i have to say, all the prepositions listed in your paragraph I use all the time at end of sentence.

I have never heard this before. I shudder to think how many sentences on my blog end with a prepositions. now I know, but will never change.

Rita said...

I'm glad they have finally recognized what people have been doing forever--lol! I have always ignored the rule in my personal, everyday writing. Hated having to deal with it in school but did learn how to write proper English--honestly--believe it or not. I want to be understood easily. Even use my own form of punctuation. I mostly write the way I talk. I am thrilled! Thanks for letting us know. :)

Sandra said...

I can't say I've ever cared. Outside of English class if anyone wanted to grade my writing, that was their problem. 😄

photowannabe said...

Yay, There have been some rather convoluted sentences because of the "rule"
Now I know what I can end my sentences WITH.

Emma Springfield said...

Guilty. I shake my head in disgust every time I do it. I know better than to end a sentence with a preposition. I have known it since I was in grade school. But I am lazy. Sentences are longer with more words to write correctly. That being said I am not sure I agree with Merriam-Webster. Most sentences ending with a preposition sound clumsy.

Marie Smith said...

Language evolves! Good!

Kay G. said...

As long as we know where we're coming from! LOL!!

Carola Bartz said...

Since I learned English as a second language I had to learn the grammar rules, but never learned this preposition stuff. In school we actually used a preposition at the end of the sentence if it was appropriate. It makes things a lot clearer, I think. Aligning English with Latin is not possible - Latin is a logical language, English is not. (I learned Latin in school as well.) I have never been bothered with the "no preposition at the end of a sentence" rule, but I also think I have a certain kind of freedom since I'm not a native speaker (and often feel the urge to correct native speakers - there, their, and they're, just to start with). This was very interesting to read!

Ginny Hartzler said...

I do it all the time. I have heard more than once that English is one of the hardest languages to learn. This does not surprise me, as we have so many rules and sound-alike words. As to this rule, phooey! We have enough language rules as it is.

Boud said...

I wish Dryden and his gang had stuck to their own writing and not got all up in other people's grammar and usage. I bet they thought of it during a period of writer's block.

Red said...

It doesn't sound that this will end discussion of the preposition rule. However, you wrote an interesting post and I tried to remember some of my basic grammar.

Christina said...

As a non-native English speaker with no formal English study, I am blissfully unaware of such peculiar rules of grammar. It is quite liberating. My favourite class at school was Latin, I studied this for 8 years. The logic of sentence construction was very comforting. I saw some commenters noting the two spaces after a full stop. I loathe this with a passion as it breaks the visual flow of text. In my native German, I have never seen this. I wonder why? I enjoyed this post, thank you x

Anvilcloud said...

Hear hear.

This is the way that we speak although I would probably try to avoid it in an English PhD thesis. 😊

nick said...

I've always regarded prepositions as something you can end sentences with. But what about the split infinitive rule? Is it okay or not okay? Personally I'm prepared to confidently split an infinitive at any time.

David said...

Hi Beatrice, Wow! So much ado...and research regarding prepositions. I never think about it very much when I'm writing. If it sounds OK or makes sense to me I don't worry about being right in the eyes of those who regard themselves as the grammatical 'police'. We humans are an interesting lot in many ways and language usage is one of them... Take Care, Big Daddy Dave