Southern Thing Column

Turns out, it's not illegal to end a sentence with a preposition. Someone was just messing around

If you missed last week’s column on It’s a Southern Thing (SouthernThing.com), you can read it by clicking here. Below are the first paragraphs.

It really jars my preserves to hear someone say, “Where are you at?” Or worse, “Where you at?” As an English major who has spent a career writing, I have to curb the urge to correct people to ask: “Where are you?” I was raised on the rule: Never end a sentence with a preposition. I always imagined someone from the Preposition Patrol was standing behind me ready to pinch my head off if I said, “Where y’all from?” or something similar.

I am ashamed now to admit I never asked why. It’s kinda like I never asked about the “I-before-E-except-after-C” rule or why we have to say “Uno” when we have one card left. I just assumed someone – Maybe God? Maybe my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pendergast? – had sound reasons for such shenanigans. 

The rule even has official-sounding titles, including “preposition stranding” and “sentence-terminal prepositions.” So I spent years twisting and contorting sentences just so they wouldn’t end in with “from” or “through” or “with.” I mean, I believe in a benevolent God who might forgive prepositional transgressions but I’ll be honest, I was scared to death of Mrs. Pendergast. Sure, she was at least 85 and tiny enough to hang from your rearview mirror but she had a stink-eye that would bring even the most stubborn student to her knees, not to mention she controlled our recess privileges.

It never occurred to me, even once, that someone started the preposition rule centuries ago just to mess with us. Some linguists attribute the rule to 17th-century poet John Dryden, who, were he still living, would be laughing his hind-end off over the preventative lengths we’ve gone to. But, if you noticed, the previous sentence ended in a preposition and I am still here. The earth has not been struck by an asteroid. Facebook did not crash. The Grammar Police didn’t even have to don their riot gear. Wanna know why? It’s not a real rule, y’all, and it never was. Click here to read the full column on It’s a Southern Thing.

3 thoughts on “Turns out, it's not illegal to end a sentence with a preposition. Someone was just messing around”

  1. Living on the edge! It’s also not illegal to begin a sentence with a conjunction. Well … maybe it is … but I haven’t been arrested yet.

    And it can be an effective way to write, sometimes. 😀

    Like

  2. I remember my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, teaching us a trick to remember prepositions.
    “A preposition is anything a squirrel can do to a hollow log!”
    In fact, I used it when I taught 4th grade. I even drew a big squirrel and a holliw log on poster board and hung it on the wall. Then students could write their prepositions on index cards and tape them around our squirrel.
    Easy, fun lesson!
    I enjoy your column.
    Margaret

    Like

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