A friend of mine sent me a link to Oxford Dictionaries’ “Can you end a sentence with a preposition?” a few weeks ago. Obviously, I wasn’t horribly curious to hear the answer (having only just read the article). And why not? I already knew the technical answer, and I still didn’t care if anyone ends a sentence with a preposition. I still don’t. In fact, I’d bet you don’t either. And neither does most of the English-speaking world – it’s one of those old grammar rules that is so under-emphasized that I don’t know why we still have it.
That said, as an English-loving person, I read the article anyway (eventually). Ok, ok. To be honest, I skimmed it for interesting tidbits, and I found one. A little-known historical fact that answers a question I’ve felt but never tried to put into words:
Who made up those old grammar rules
and why did *he/they do it?
Now, you know me: I support knowing grammar rules for the simple reason that they give you the tools to shape sentences to create the effect and meaning you want. They’re especially good for making meaning clearer and easier to understand (especially these 5 grammar rules). And in absolute terms, I can sort of see that putting a preposition next to its object should be clearer than separating them. It really should.
But it usually isn’t.
The problem is that we usually separate prepositional phrases when saying the phrase as a whole interrupts the flow of the sentence, requires additional words and phrases, and makes the whole statement downright clunky. That’s not simplifying anything. And it rarely makes the sentence clearer (unless you’re drawing a sentence diagram… you know… for fun.).
So why did they do it? Why did they care about the rule?
Well, according to aforementioned blog post, they did it to follow the rules of Latin. That’s right. They criticized people’s English skills based on Latin rules.
And you thought today’s Grammar police were bad!
Can you imagine criticizing someone’s writing based on a different language system? I mean, I get that English stole its grammar, syntax, and words from a variety of languages, so, yes, it’s got a lot in common with Latin. But still! That’s like judging American football by rugby rules because they have a shared origin (at least, I hope it is… sports aren’t my best thing.)
Long story short, no wonder no one cares anymore! You want me to rewrite this sentence based on the rules of a dead language? Um… no.
Because that’s what Latin is – a dead language. Instructors even had to make up an accent for it because there was no one left to speak it in outside of academia. Yet a tiny handful of people are still judging English on it – telling us not to end sentences with prepositions or not to split infinitives.
And they don’t even know. But they will, right? The next time they try to correct you. 😉
*I assume “he” because of the time period of the rule and the lack of influential female grammarians from that time.