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  • Urban legend: don't end sentence with preposition

Comments Jan 4, 2007 10:04 am

Ah, but this urban legend gave rise to one of the best puns in the history of journalism.  In prison for his part in the infamous Loeb and Leopold murder case, Richard Loeb was murdered by another prisoner after having allegedly made sexual advances on him.  The Chicago Daily News reported the incident as follows:  "Richard Loeb, despite his erudition, today ended his sentence with a proposition."

David Jolliffe, University of Arkansas

Reply to at 10:04 am Jan 4, 2007 11:14 am

One of my favorite language/professor jokes (and there are many variants): 

A snobbish East Coast English Professor is visiting a colleague at a rural university in the Midwest.  The colleague takes him to the local cafe for breakfast and introduces him to a few locals she's gotten to know over the years, including a farmer. 

Farmer:  Glad to meet you.  Where do you come from? 

Professor:  It is improper to end a sentence with a preposition. 

Farmer:  I'm very sorry.  Where do you come from, a**hole?

Reply to at 11:14 am Jan 5, 2007 12:37 am

Well. Hugh Blair came pretty darn close to such a "rule" in Lecture XII (Structure of Sentrences) in his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. "A fifth rule [note that word!] for the strength of sentences; which is, to avoid concluding them with an adverb, a preposition, or any inconsiderable word."  He considered prepositions to be "inferior parts of speech." After allowing for an occasional exception to the rule, he provided this example. "Agreeable to this rule, we should always avoid concluding with any of those particles, which mark the cases of nouns,--of, to, from, with, by.  For instance, it is a great deal better to say, 'Avarice is a crime of which wise men are often guilty,' that to say, 'Avarice is a crime which wise men are often guilty of.' This is a phraseology which all correct writers will shun; and with reason. For besides the want of dignity which arises from those monosyllables at the end, the imagination cannot avoid resting, for a little, on the import of the word which closes the sentence. And, as those prepositions have no import of their own, but only serve to point out the relations of other words, it is disagreeable for the mind to be left pausing on a word, which does not, by itslef, produce any idea, nor form any picture in the fancy."

Blair's "rule" applied, of course, to "any inconsiderable word" but he was pretty hostile to prepositions. There is a discussion elsewhere in the lectures where he touts to beauty of the declension of nouns in Latin as a way of communicating the relationships for which English relies on prepositions. He bias against propositions is clearly Latin based.

In any case, it may not be quite fair to say that the rule "don't end a sentence with a preposition" is an urban legend.  


Reply to at 12:37 am Aug 3, 2008 4:53 pm

I don't recall exactly where I learned this, maybe Language Files, but I think that John Dryden (1631-1700) was the one who promoted the "don't end sentences with prepositions" rule, on the grounds that English should be like Latin, which of course didn't allow such things



Reply to at 4:53 pm dhesse@du.eduJul 3, 2009 3:58 am

Farmer:  Glad to meet you.  Where do you come from?

Professor:  It is improper to end a sentence with a preposition.

Farmer:  I'm very sorry.  Where do you come from, a**hole?

That is a simple joke but it made me smile :)

I am always avoiding sentences that end in a preposition, not sure I will use this though Tongue out

Reply to at 3:58 am