Etymology Grammar

Myth information

Q: When I was at school—Sept. ’49 to June ’62—I was taught that you never end a sentence with a preposition. Is that rule still being followed? I have no children (only Siamese cats), so I don’t know what is being taught in school today.

A: The old “rule” against ending a sentence with a preposition is a well-known grammatical myth, as we’ve mentioned several times on the blog.

But we still get so many questions about it that we’ll try once again to lay this superstition to rest.

Like the one about “splitting” an infinitive, this so-called rule did not invariably appear in school textbooks, but was handed down orally.

We have an extensive collection of old grammar books, and these rules are absent from almost all of them, especially those published during the last hundred years or so.

We devote an entire chapter in Origins of the Specious, our book about language myths, to such grammatical fictions, and we’ve written about them on the Grammar Myths page of our website.

In a blog item about our changing language, we also discuss this business of ending a sentence with a preposition. Here’s an excerpt:

“It was believed for a (very brief) time a couple of hundred years ago that an English sentence shouldn’t end with a preposition. Why? Because English had emerged gradually and informally and naturally, and concern about rules came later. When questions of grammar arose in the 18th century, Latin scholars sought to impose the rules of Latin on English. But before long people realized that English wasn’t a Romance (Latin-derived) language. It’s a Germanic language, and Germanic languages commonly end in prepositions. So that brief ‘rule’ was debunked, although many people still erroneously cling to it. A lot of former ‘rules’ of grammar are old myths invented by Latinists in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

So the prohibition against ending a sentence with a preposition was exposed as a fallacy long before you went to school. Unfortunately, your teachers never got the word.

In case you need another authority, you can check The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language or a much less technical source, The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.).

Here’s what the Chicago Manual has to say: “The ‘rule’ prohibiting terminal prepositions was an ill-founded superstition. Today many grammarians use the dismissive term pied-piping for this phenomenon.”  (Page 249.)

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage goes further. Here are a couple of excerpts:

For the last century or so, commentators have been “unanimous in their rejection of the notion that ending a sentence with a preposition is an error or an offense against propriety.” (Page 609.)

“The preposition at the end has always been an idiomatic feature of English. It would be pointless to worry about the few who believe it is a mistake.” (Page 611.)

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