Saturday, June 30, 2007

Taboo #2: You may not end a sentence with a preposition--ha!

Here's the second RULE OF GRAMMAR you learned in English Composition class that is doing you no good as an effective writer.

If you had an English Composition teacher like mine, you were told not to end sentences with prepositions. You remember prepositions, right? Those little words that connect a noun or pronoun to another word--at, in, on, by, to, of, with, from, about under, between. Okay, enough with the grammar lesson.

To not end a sentence with a preposition means we must rewrite the sentence to reposition the preposition. And that will almost always lead to awkwardness. For today's reader, awkwardness is an attention killer.

So, writing coaches are unmasking this taboo for the albatross that it is. And they have one of history's greatest communicators on their side. Winston Churchill knew the importance of being clear, and in a speech ended a sentence with a preposition.

After his oration, the media attacked him. Churchill shot back: "This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put."

I must insert a note here, an exception, if you will. To write or speak such things as, "Where do you live at?" or "Where do you work at?" is never acceptable. It's just bad grammar. "Where do you work?" and "Where do you live?" will always be correct and acceptable.

Occasionally, a preposition is a fine thing to end a sentence with. (Did you catch that?) This is especially true when it is a much more natural, much more conversational way to write than the awkward alternative of writing around it.

Done sparingly, most readers will never notice you ended a sentence with a preposition. What they will notice is your message. And that's every writer's goal.