Prepositions for a Friend · 7 December 2013

My friend, Marc, and many other people believe that English sentences should not end with prepositions. In fact, when people end sentences with those nasty parts of the English language, Marc just adds a nice object for that preposition (sometimes even out loud). He even does it to sentiments like, “That’s what friends are for.”

Personally, I do not adhere to this arbitrary rule. (Then again, I do not adhere to all the accepted rules of the English language, but that is a different story.) Fortunately, I am in good company with the so called preposition rule.

Winston Churchill is quoted (or misquoted) as saying about ending sentences with prepositions, “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” It is a sassy answer that sounds funny and is full of irony. Personally, I envision a knight (with horn-rimmed glasses) wielding a red pen striking each and every sentence that ends with a preposition.

Naturally, I looked up the quote on the internet to make sure it was indeed a Churchill quote. In addition to verifying that he made the statement, I found several variations. Most notably, the fifth word was spelled as both “arrant” and “errant.”

After looking up arrant and errant, I discovered at least part of the confusion many people have in misquoting Churchill. Apparently, instead of the errant knight in search of adventure striking fear into the hearts of preposition-ending sentence constructors, I should have (or could have depending on who was quoting) been seeing an arrant court jester or strict school marm (with horn-rimmed glasses) dogmatically following the rule, correcting each and every sentence of the king and court. Of course, if indeed Winston Churchill did speak the words, perhaps he meant the listeners to have both of those ridiculous images in their heads as they strictly adhered to the notion that no sentence should end in a preposition.

Of course, Winston Churchill was not the only one who did not hold to the ridiculous preposition rule.

In fact, the late James J. Kilpatrick, a noted writing expert, said it was not a rule at all. He scoffed at the notion that good sentences could not end with prepositions, even ending the title of at least one of his columns with one (Final preposition nothing to get upset about). He even implied the rule was merely the ravings of Latin thinking English speakers. I found the column while searching for one I read years ago, and I discovered others (Where should you put your prepositions? Rules to live by and Dumb grammar rules, up with which we will not put). It seems that Mr. Kilpatrick revisited the subject fairly often in his column, The Writer’s Art. And he came up with the same conclusion as Winston Churchill. Yes, you can end sentences properly with prepositions.

I am glad I found such authoritative speakers and writers who would assert that there is no rule in the English language that says we cannot end sentences with prepositions, but I must admit I did not write this piece to expound on a rule of the English language that few follow anyway. In reality, I wrote it because my friend Marc wanted me to write something about him.

Actually, Marc never said he wanted to be the subject of my writing. He just acted hurt one day when talking about something I wrote.

Marc always pokes fun at me (and everybody else around him). Sometimes his jesting is about my writing. (He would never admit it, but poking fun at people is one of the ways he shows affection.) As he told me recently, Marc is also one of my three real (as opposed to imaginary) fans, so I wanted to write something just for him. Especially, since he seemed hurt that I had not yet done so except to mention him a couple times in passing.

I figured the best way to recognize my friend was to write about one of his favorite subjects. Or at least one of his biggest pet peeves.

I actually wanted to write a whole piece ending every sentence with a preposition. Unfortunately, even writing about the preposition rule did not lend itself to that bit of chicanery. Besides, I did not really want to have Marc calling me names as he read each sentence. (Even though he might do so anyway.) So I settled on writing about ending sentences with prepositions.

In the final analysis, ending sentences with prepositions is not such a risky proposition in terms of breaking rules of the English language. But you still might get called names by Marc. It makes me feel remiss that I could not think of a sentence or two for him. After all, ending sentences with prepositions is what friends are for.

© 2013 Michael T. Miyoshi

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