My husband pointed out yesterday that while my previous blog entry, Why is this not headline news?!, was genius and highly entertaining (I think his words were, “It was good, but…”), I didn’t explain why it is okay to end a sentence with a preposition, or why we should trust these people who are telling us its okay. “Who are these people you’re quoting, and what authority do they have to say that this grammar rule we’ve all learned is wrong?”
He is a scientist. He is good at questioning. “I mean, you’re asking people to break a rule that they’ve believed all their lives, that their English teachers pounded into their heads,” he said. “Based on what? Some people on the internet?”
“Shoot,” I said. I was worried about that. “I was going to explain that in Latin, prepositions are not dangled, and Latin was considered an elevated language, so we should model our grammar after Latin. English is largely Germanic, though, and in German it is perfectly fine to strand prepositions. But I thought the piece was already getting too long and left all that out.”
And then my brain went off on a long tangent about print media verses online media, and how we are more likely to trust a print source because it presumably goes through intense rounds of fact-checking. Producing print media is an awful lot of work, takes way more time than the instantaneous “publish” button online, and it is not editable once the words are printed on the page. A publisher will have to be convinced of an author’s credibility before printing their words on a page, and because of the heavy investment in producing print, the publishers will want to make sure they get it right. A blog, though? Someone can just fire off a post, sound confident in their writing, with no rounds of fact-checking, no external editing, and we believe in them as an authoritative source.
At least I think that’s what my husband might have been getting at. (← see that? a dangling preposition!) Know my source, believe in my source, convince the reader that they can trust my source. He was not wrong to question the authority of the people I quoted because though I trusted their credibility (the Lexicon Valley podcast is produced by Slate magazine, Grammar Girl is endorsed by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 best websites for writers, and the Grumpy Grammarian piece I quoted was published in The New Republic online), I didn’t tell you their credentials. I gave you, the reader, little basis on which to have faith in them. This was a valuable lesson for me as a writer. My husband’s question was the type of hole that quality critiquers will point out when they read your work. It’s not incumbent upon the reader to click through links to figure out whether they should believe these sources – that is my responsibility as the writer. As I’ve heard over and over again in critique groups, “A writer should not have to explain what she’s written. If she does, she didn’t do her job as a writer.” I have since edited the post to strengthen my sources’ credibility.
However, if it is still hard for you to believe that this “DO NOT END A SENTENCE PREPOSITION” rule is wrong – and believe me, I understand the difficulty in getting over this rule – if you really can’t bear to leave those ‘at’s and ‘in’s hanging without concrete, fact-checked, externally edited, published-in-print proof that it is okay to strand your prepositions, I give you the usage note for the “preposition” entry in The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Houghton Mifflin Company:
prep · o · si · tion…
Usage Note: The doctrine that a preposition may not be used to end a sentence has become one of the most venerated maxims of schoolroom grammatical lore. However, English syntax allows and sometimes requires final placement of the preposition. Such placement is the only possible one in a sentence such as That depends on what you believe in. · Even sticklers for the traditional rule can have no grounds for criticizing sentences such as Where will she end up? or It’s the most curious book I’ve ever run across. In these examples, up and across are used as adverbs, not prepositions.