Monday, December 21, 2009

Never End A Sentence With A Preposition

According to Bill Bryson [The Mother Tongue: English And How It Got That Way], "The source of this stricture... was one Robert Lowth, an eighteenth century clergyman and amateur grammarian whose A Short Introduction to English Grammar, published in 1762, enjoyed a long and distressingly influential life both in his native England and abroad." And further, that "...even he was not didactic about it. He recognized that ending a sentence with a preposition was idiomatic and common in both speech and informal writing. He suggested only that he thought it generally better and more graceful, not crucial, to place the preposition before its relative "in solemn and elevated writing."


In an effort to coerce his young son to bed, a dedicated father told the boy to go upstairs, to his bedroom, promising him to follow shortly with a book. The father would then read to his son in bed. When his father arrived, with his sons least favorite book, one about Australia, the boy said: "What did you bring that book, that i don't want to be read to from out of about Down Under up for?". This held the Guinness Book record until the category was dropped, purportedly because you can add prepositions to the end of this sentence indefinitely, as follows: "What did you say that the sentence with the most prepositions at the end was 'What did you bring that book that I don't want to be read to from out of about Down Under up for?' for? The preceding sentence has one more."


Winston Churchill was editing a proof of one of his books, when he noticed that an editor had clumsily rearranged one of Churchill's sentences so that it wouldn't end with a preposition. Churchill scribbled in the margin, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put." (This is often quoted with "arrant nonsense" substituted for "English", or with other variations. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations cites Sir Ernest Gowers' "Plain Words" (1948), where the anecdote begins, "It is said that Churchill..."; so we don't know exactly what Churchill wrote. According to the Oxford Companion to the English Language, Churchill's words were "bloody nonsense" and the variants are euphemisms.)


"Excuse me, where is the library at?"

"Here at Hahvahd, we never end a sentence with a preposition."

"O.K. Excuse me, where is the library at, twit?"

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