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Reasly Easy Grammer - No. 36 Here's A Preposition Proposition
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There are many rules of grammar: good rules, bad rules, sound rules, and silly rules. The problem is knowing which ones you have to follow and which ones can you ignore. I’ll give you my rule about that in a bit, but first, let’s look at who decided whether it was good grammar or bad. Like most rules that apply to things that aren’t related to the physical sciences, grammar rules were made up by “scholars” with a very high opinion of their own opinions. Back in the 18th Century, in England, they thought that Classic Latin was as close to a perfect language as you could get. So, they decided that English (a language that developed in northern Europe) should follow the same rules of grammar as Latin (that developed in southern Europe). It was like deciding that because pie and stew are both foods, you can use the same recipe for making one as you can for the other.
As a result, we get the rule: You must never use a preposition to end a sentence with. That means that you can’t put words like of, over, by, for, with, upon, which, and up at the ends of sentences because they’re prepositions. The rule says it’s bad grammar, but most modern experts on grammar say it’s not. So, I don’t figure I have to follow it. But why do we have the rule in the first place? Because, in (nearly perfect) Latin, the job a word does in a sentence is shown by the last few letters of the word (called a case ending), which means it’s possible to arrange words a number of different ways in a Latin sentence without losing the meaning—except for prepositions, which don’t have case endings. So, you can’t end a sentence with a preposition in Latin because the sentence just won’t make sense. In English, which doesn’t have much in the way of case endings, how the words are arranged in a sentence is more important because it can determine the meaning—except for prepositions. Wherever you put them, it’s usually pretty obvious what you mean. “That’s the book I wanted you to read from,” isn’t only clear, but it’s a lot more normal sounding than “That’s the book from which I wanted you to read.” Come to think of it, it’s not a matter of grammar at all. It’s really a matter of style. I had an instructor once who said to me, “I don’t care about what you call common usage. In this class, ending a sentence with a preposition is frowned upon.” Makes me wonder what he could have been thinking of.
OK, so some of our rules of grammar make sense and others don’t. And it’s possible that you can violate many of them and still be considered a good writer. The question is both when and whether. Personally, I just follow my Golden Rule for Writers: Who has the gold makes the rule. Major organizations have style guides, and all my clients have opinions on what’s correct and what isn’t. My job is to write in the style preferred by the person paying me. That doesn’t mean that you can’t try to bring linguistic enlightenment into someone’s world. After all, you are the professional. But, if you can’t, you don’t have a choice. I disagree with most new style guides about not putting a comma before the and in a series. When I write, I put one in unless the client says not to. Then I stop doing it. Being a writer-for-hire means knowing the rules. It also means knowing when they can be bent or broken and knowing when they must be followed. Remember: the Boss isn’t always right, but he or she is always the Boss.
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