Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The Rules of Writing-Parts of Speech-Preposition 3
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: June 05, 2013
For writers, what’s in a preposition?
You might have heard that ending a sentence with a preposition is iffy grammar.
Based on a dicey historical precedent, the rule took hold until grammarians pointed out the nonsense.
Bill Bryson wrote:
The “rule” was enshrined by one Robert Lowth, an eighteenth-century Bishop of London and a gentleman grammarian. In his wildly idiosyncratic but curiously influential Short Introduction to English Grammar, Lowth urged his readers not to end sentences with prepositions if they could decently avoid it. Too many people took him much too literally and for a century and a half the notion held sway. Today, happily, it is universally condemned as a pointless affectation. Indeed, there are many sentences where the preposition could scarcely come anywhere but at the end: “This bed hasn’t been slept in;” “What is the world coming to;” “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Ending a sentence with a preposition is not a grammatical error but... (In English grammar, there’s always a “but.”) One of the real rules of fiction writing is to make every word count, something we repeat to exhaustion in this manual. The corollary is that every word we write must be justified. Nothing advances more the quality of a writer’s output than ruthless inquisition: “What are you doing here?” If the text answers, “I don’t know,” or “looking pretty,” the word, clause, sentence, paragraph or chapter should go. Extra prepositions—when the meaning is clear without them—is a case in point.
Where did Mary go to?
John will go later on.
Where did Mary get this at?
In the three previous examples, we don’t need the prepositions. Another common problem is to pile up prepositions one after the other:
The glass fell off
Mary looked out
John tore the photo
into small pieces.
In these examples, the underscored preposition is redundant.
“Gotcha! You used ‘pile up’ in the earlier explanation.”
Indeed, we did. “Pile up” is a phrasal verb, a two-word verb or a verb-preposition phrase, not unlike pile on, pile down, pile in, or pile out.
For native English speakers, choosing the right preposition seldom presents a problem. For those for whom English is a second language, the subtle distinctions can be difficult. Even the mighty Conrad struggled with his English prepositions. Carlos? He’s a lost case when it comes to prepositions.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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