Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

Header image for Ending a Sentence with a Preposition: strips of paper with different prepositions written on them

There’s an old joke that goes something like this:

Some cowboys are mingling at the bar when an Oxford graduate walks in. “Howdy, stranger,” one cowboy says. “Where are you from?”

The Oxford graduate answers, “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with a preposition.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” replies the cowboy. “Where are you from, jackass?”

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To Boldly Split Infinitives

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Spock and Kirk standing behind a model of the Starship Enterprise

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before!

Star Trek, 1966–1969

With these words a new era in science-fiction was launched, and the mission not only of the Enterprise but of an entire franchise was declared.

But these words also irritated an awful lot of grammar purists.

“To boldly go?” they objected. “That’s a split infinitive. That’s bad grammar!”

But why? What is so wrong with saying to boldly go? To understand that, you have to understand something about the history of English.

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Don’t Dangle that Participle

figure of woman labeled "participle" dangling from a cliff

Unlike many of the so-called “grammar rules” that are really style rules, the rule against dangling participles is a good one.

A Dangling What, Now?

A participle is a verbal adjective that comes in two main varieties: the present participle, usually formed with -ing, and the past participle, usually formed with -ed. These verbal adjectives generally function the way other adjectives do:

  • The flowing water pours out of the fountain.
  • The disrespected attorney lost his practice.

In addition, participles can head a phrase that modifies a noun in a sentence:

  • I saw the dog running down the street.
  • She hit the car parked in the driveway.
  • Sitting in the park, I awaited my true love.
  • Beaten back by the revolutionaries, the army fled the field.
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Do I Need to Use the Oxford Comma?

comma

If you’ve been on social media at all and paid attention to grammar arguments, you may have seen a lot of discussion about the Oxford comma and whether writers need to use it.

The Oxford comma—or serial comma—is the comma that appears before the final item in a series, such as:

  • The colors of the American flag are red, white, and blue.
  • The most popular pizza toppings are pepperoni, mushrooms, and olives.

Some people insist that this final comma is unnecessary and that those sentences are just as intelligible if written:

  • The colors of the American flag are red, white and blue.
  • The most popular pizza toppings are pepperoni, mushrooms and olives.
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Singular “They” Is Not the End of the World

Dictionary entry for "they"

Pronouns have gotten a lot of attention lately, primarily because they have been brought to the forefront of efforts to create more inclusive language.

Those wishing to create welcoming spaces for transgender individuals will include their preferred pronouns when introducing themselves. “Hi, I’m Jamal, my pronouns are he/him,” someone might say. This is done to create a space where someone else might introduce themselves as “Jackie, pronouns they/them.”

I have written elsewhere that it can be hard for older English speakers to hear the word they as applying to a specific, defined individual. Nevertheless, the use of they to refer to a singular individual is nothing new—and nothing to fear.

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Grammar versus Style

chalk board with grammar written on it, covered by the word style

No one disputes that good writing has to have good grammar. But what do we mean when we say “grammar”? It may not be what we’re used to thinking it is.

Take, for example, the following pairs of sentences. In each pair, make note of which one is grammatical.

  1. Who are you going to the dinner with?
  2. With whom are you going to the dinner?
  1. He wanted to completely destroy the enemy city.
  2. He wanted to destroy the enemy city completely.
  1. A writer should trust their instincts when composing an essay.
  2. A writer should trust his or her instincts when composing an essay.
  1. And so, we find that we are tempted to edge closer and closer to absolute certainty in doctrine, belief, and ideology. But is such certainty even possible?
  2. We find that we are tempted to edge closer and closer to absolute certainty in doctrine, belief, and ideology. Is such certainty even possible?
  1. Who would be willing to give that up? Not me.
  2. Who would be willing to give that up? I would not be willing to do so.
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“I don’t need an editor—I write really well.”

text with proofreading marks in red

Editors hear this a lot. Sometimes we say the same thing. Perhaps you have as well. There’s just one problem with the statement:

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone.

text with proofreading marks in red

One of the biggest challenges to good writing is the “curse of knowledge.” The curse of knowledge is when a writer knows what they1Yes, I used a singular “they” here—more on this in another post! mean, so they don’t bother explaining it.

You can have a perfectly grammatical paragraph, free from misspellings, typographical errors, and grammatical errors, and it can still be difficult to understand because the ideas are not adequately explained or the structure itself is unclear. Take a look at this example:

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The Importance of Good Writing

One of the great benefits of the internet age is that it is text-driven: emails, text messages, social media, and on and on. People are reading and writing more than ever.

Written text in need of editing to become good writing

But the quality of the writing hasn’t necessarily increased with the quantity. When everyone can publish without restriction, there will be a lot of poorly written content available. Otherwise good ideas can get lost in a sea of jumbled words and phrases.

Good writing and clear communication are essential if you want to stand out and be recognized. Your ideas will draw more attention and earn more respect when they are presented in ways that are easy to understand and remember.

An editor can help you with your writing not only by spotting the obvious grammatical and typographical errors but by helping to improve the flow and the clarity of your writing. An editor can help a writer avoid common writing pitfalls and enable the text to shine.

If you would like to improve your writing, Schaefer Wordsmithing can help you.