Cat Crossing: The Romance of Judith Stanton
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Is A Preposition Something You Can Ever End A Sentence With?

Yes, all the time. And whoever said we couldn't? Probably that stuffy grammarian who told us not to split infinitives.

Good stylists, however, will choose their battles carefully. I'm of a mind with Sir Winston Churchill, who responded to censure for having so sinned with: "That is a kind of errant nonsense up with which I will not put."

Untangled, his thought reads more idiomatically: "That is a kind of errant nonsense I won't put up with."

Sounds right, doesn't it? But why? Largely because the English language permits it. From the time when our ancestors spoke Old English, prepositions have fallen at the end of sentences naturally. The poet Ben Jonson put them there, as did his buddy William Shakespeare. A couple of generations later, John Dryden, who wrote poem and plays in Latin as well as English, asserted for the first time that sentences ending in prepositions were inelegant in style. We can only surmise that like the stuffy grammarian who banned split infinitives from polished prose, Dryden drew an analogy from Latin too: The Romans never ended sentences with prepositions. Therefore, neither should we.

The notion caught on, appearing as a rule in at least three influential schoolbooks by the end of the eighteenth century, including one by Daniel Webster. Schoolmasters took this rule to heart because, I believe, the error was such an easy one to spot and therefore to correct. Today, as readers, most of us know it. But as writers, we can choose to use it or not.

In fact, writers of contemporary romance run the risk of sounding stuffy if they follow the rule strictly. Allison Hayes in her recent Silhouette Special Edition Marry Me, Now! uses end prepositions naturally:

"He simply told her to wear what she was comfortable in."

The sentence has a simple, idiomatic, contemporary flavor. If, however, we place it in a Regency, we might recast it for formality: "He simply told her to wear clothes in which she would be comfortable." It's longer but sounds more correct, perhaps more educated, more upper-class.

A second Hayes sentence reads: "You're encouraging my daughters in behavior I disapprove of." In a contemporary or a historical, it could be revised to subtly suggest a character's fussiness: "You're encouraging my daughters in behavior of which I disapprove." Such a speaker is obviously not our virile, no-nonsense hero.

Think of the end preposition as a subtle tool of tone, voice, and characterization. It's a slight, but telling device. Your reader will barely (or is it hardly? Scarcely?) know what hit her.

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