9.21.2005

Dangling prepositions allowed

I was reading Languagehat, and he said, "I will remind everyone that there is nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition."

Really? I didn't know that, but he's the Language Guy, the Great One, so I should believe him, since he's got a lot more language experience than me (and most people).

So I clicked on his link to Language Log and saw the following explanation (excuse the long quote, but there's a lot of important info to share):

In 1672 an influential essayist called John Dryden published a critical piece called "Defence of the epilogue" which included a catalog of alleged faults in the writing of important recent authors. In that essay he called it "a common fault" to have a "Preposition in the end of the sentence". Notice, uncontroversially, the usage was common in the 17th century. That is because it was fully grammatical then, as it is now, and it already had been for centuries. Dryden even noted that it occurred in his own writings. He had no basis whatever for his objection to it...

...About a hundred years after Dryden expressed his opinion, Bishop Robert Lowth, in a grammar that became quite important, described the construction with the preposition at the front of the clause as "more graceful as well as more perspicuous", adding that it "agrees much better with the solemn and elevated style" --- though Lowth still made it extremely clear that it is normal in speech and "the familiar style in writing" (the style in which one writes I'm and couldn't rather than I am and could not). Slowly Lowth's view ossified in the writings of other grammarians. By 1800 several famous school textbooks expressed straightforward disapproval of the stranded preposition, and teachers began to teach generations of schoolchildren that it was wrong. In America (though much less in Great Britain) this belief survived from the 19th century into the 20th.

If you're wondering why he's so smart and knowledgeable, it's because he's a linguistics professor. So don't worry if your love of language is as "simple" as mine is compared to these linguistic heavyweights. The world needs us all.

17 comments:

wshaneh said...

I guess I was in the generation that was tought that it is WRONG to end a sentence with a preposition (I am 31 by the way.) I still think it sounds better to avoid the dangling preposition all together, but that is just me. I liked your blog though, it was very informative.

mj said...

I learned the same thing--no sentences can have a dangling preposition. That's why I thought this was such "big news"--they're allowed! It still looks strange to have one there, though it sounds good.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Spread the word (no pun intended). :)

Anonymous said...

The word "preposition" literally means to "place before", ergo it should actually precede the wording that it "introduces". If not so positioned, its designation should be changed.

mj said...

Good point--though I'm sure there are other such contradictory/oxymoronic words that describe unrelated/irrelevant/changed functions. But the nature of English has never been static. I'm actually surprised no one has pointed out my "incorrect" use of "me" in the second paragraph :)

Teofilo Maxim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teofilo Maxim said...

Actually, I am pretty sure you used "me" correctly in the second paragraph ("more language experience than me")

The whole idea of a correct grammar which runs counter to actual usage is of course elitist. Even so, when writing I tend to favour "correct" grammar. I guess that makes me elitist. I don't like that conclusion, but will give it thought.

I often accidentally dangle prepositions when speaking and sometimes miss them when writing.

Ironically, I would say there is a tendency to use the word "I" late in a sentence because it sound "intelligent and proper". In fact it is often incorrect.

In this case, I would argue that either "me" or "I" would be fine. If you use "I" it suggests an implicit missing "do" as in "more than I do".

Notice although the same argument would apply to "he/him" there is not as much of a tendency to judge "more experience than he" as obviously correct. (Although it does sound vaguely aristocratic, I guess).

I have a little more trouble with the "he's got a lot" construction ;-)

Be well,
Teo

mj said...

Nah, I don't think I should say "me" cuz if I were to "finish" the sentence, it would say, "since he's got a lot more language experience than I do." So if I were to cut out the "do" it should say "than I" since the verb "do" is implied.

English grammar has been in flux for years and years, pretty much during its entire existence (I read about that in "The Mother Tongue").

I don't think favoring correct grammar is elitist. I think being snobby is elitist :)

From your spelling of "favour" I can tell you're not American :)

TashTish said...

One great reason not to stress out about dangling participles, from the equally great Winston Churchill, who responded to hoity-toity "no dangling participles!" pseudo-intellects with:

"THAT is something up with which I will not put!"

All hail dangling participles! Long live dangling participles! We shall overcome!

mj said...

Yeah--dangling prepositions aren't a big deal. A lot of people use them in speech, and people can be a little too uptight about them in written form.

Anonymous said...

And years later, here I come.
(I'm certain TashTish meant prepositionbs, not particples, which are/is a whole 'nother topic)

Thanks to whomever it was that made the disticnction between the conversational, spoken word and the written word (especially authors hwo we would expect better from, er, "from whom we would expect better."
Particularly annoying are those who say "... between she and I" and other such abuses that make me want to bite my own ears off. (BTW, "off" is not dangling here, as Churchill's "up" would not have been either.)

Another particularly variation is when people try to be correct, saying "Whom are you going to give that to," or other half correct attempts at elitist gramar, aka 'sway-do-intellectuals' (pseudo-intellectual). At least they are trying, though.

Here's something I found interestingly amusing about this on the web :
http://www.virtual.net.au/~mcintosh/funnies/dangling.htm

Charlz@ProperProPer.com

Anonymous said...

'Me' in that context is a hypercorrection.

mj said...

I just went to that link--that *is* amusing :D--thanks

Thom said...

I randomly came upon this site, as it was the first result in my Google search, and I must say that I, too, hate "dangling" prepositions. Don't get me wrong, however, there are certain cases when I will definitely let it slip, as I am equally prone to err as others. For example, "Who am I talking to?" as opposed to "To whom as I speaking?"

Really, the fact of the matter is we need to learn better grammar and structure in the way we communicate, or elsewhere, as one of my friends astutely observed, English will one day become merely "slang," a hosh-posh of jumbled thoughts and concepts laid down in a coherent manner.

Oh, and instead of "me" you should say "myself." I do believe. But don't quote me.

mj said...

I doubt anyone says "To whom am I speaking" anymore. Or did they ever?

Maybe instead of "me" or "myself" I should say, "than I do."

Thanks for visiting :D

Robert said...

The notion that one shouldn't dangle prepositions was invented by Dryden and then endorsed by another 18th century grammarian. The whole business of prescriptive grammar only came into existence in the 17th and 18th centuries. These "rules" of grammar that so many take so seriously are not "rules" at all but simply the opinions of self-appointed experts who had no expertise in language at all, and who by and large attempted to apply the grammar of Latin to English. In Latin, for example, you cannot end a sentence with a preposition or split an infinitive.

One of the many problems with prescriptive grammar is that it uses the terminology of Latin grammar to describe English. But it is debatable whether English has gerunds, prepositions (in the literal sense of the word), or infinitives. But there are other types of grammar that do use a new terminology appropriate to English.

Since there is no official grammar of English and no central authority to say what is or isn't correct what is acceptable English can only be determined by usage.

mj said...

The book The Mother Tongue talks about such inconsistencies of English, and how the rules change depending on usage.

CleanAirElectricCars said...

I have for many years attempted to avoid hanging prepositions. I was probably taught this in school, although I can't recall it specifically.

A colleague with an Oxford education once told me "with which", "of whom" and similar constructions sounded rather formal. Having no such education, I almost acquiesced until I researched the topic and arrived at my own conclusions.

When writing business documents and emails, I think it worthwhile to avoid hanging prepositions to achieve clarity and readability. After all, there are those who will reach a hanging preposition only to find themselves questioning its legitimacy and thus losing their place.

On the topic of whether to use "me" or "I", I agree with MJ - finish the sentence and you will know.

I cringe when I hear someone using “myself” instead of “I” or “me”. It sounds as if the speaker is confused about whether to use "me" or "I" and so settles for "myself". Somehow, it sounds at once ostentatious and uneducated.

I say thanks to John Dryden for raising the level of eloquence, clarity and flow in our English language - and thanks to MJ for creating a forum for its debate.

Now… if we can just address the issue of typographical errors as people tap away on their keyboards and smart phones, not to mention those dreaded emoticons and invented abbreviations.