Saturday, June 16, 2018

The origin of that stupid rule about not ending sentences with a preposition

The travel blog Atlas Obscura, of all places, has an interesting post about the origin of that "don't end a sentence with a preposition rule" most of us had hammered into our collective craniums during grade school. Turns out the rule is attributed to some "fusspot" named John Dryden who was simultaneously reviled as a person while praised as a literary star of 17th century England. The rule against so-called "preposition stranding" (i.e. ending a sentence with one) can be traced back to Dryden's criticism of a fellow playwright Ben Jonson. According to Atlas Obscura, however, the precise reason why this relatively minor, obscure critique on the part of Dryden given his otherwise voluminous literary output lodged itself in the grammarian's brain remains a mystery to this day.  As the author of the AO piece Dan Nosowitz observes:

What's so frustrating about this whole preposition thing is that there doesn’t appear to be an easy answer as to how it became so completely lodged in formal English grammar. There are all these little hints as to why it might have taken hold—it is an easy-to-understand grammarian rule that came about at a time and place when English grammar was rapidly taking form, and it came from the mouth of the biggest literary figure of the time. But like Dryden himself, it’s a hard rule to get ahold of. Of which to get ahold.

Maybe now, almost four hundred years later, it's time to stop the madness and allow students (and all other writers for that matter) to end their sentences with a preposition if that's what works best to express the idea rather than mangling those sentences in order to appease the tastes of a long dead, irascible fusspot.

You can read the full Atlas Obscura post here.


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