Every civilized society has a clearly defined set of rules to regulate the lives of its inhabitants. Lack of rules would mean absolute chaos. Legal rules discussed in Congress are called laws and rules originated by other social organizations are just called rules. Such is the case of English grammar rules. As an example let’s discuss the rule about dangling prepositions.
It’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. Proper English grammar dictates that English sentences should not end in prepositions. A dangling preposition is a preposition that is the last word of a sentence or clause like, “What are you thinking about?” According to true English grammar purists, one should never end a sentence or a clause with a preposition. It’s a sin to do so raged the English purists.
“Who are you going with?”
“Which box did you put it in?”
“Who’s the letter addressed to?”
Do the above sound perfectly correct to you? Well, grammatically speaking they’re not. They’re certainly accepted in everyday speech, and it’s fine if your coworkers, relatives and friends talk that way. But each of the above is technically incorrect, because each one ends with a preposition devoid of its object. In short, it “dangles.”
When using prepositions, they must always be followed by their objects. They may not stand alone. That is the rule which we should follow if we consider ourselves to write proper English. Below is the correct way to write the three examples above:
“With whom are you going?” (Preposition with followed by its object whom)
“In which box did you put it?” (Preposition in followed by its object box)
“To whom is the letter addressed?” (Preposition to followed by its object whom)
What is the reason for the rule of the dangling preposition? Well, it dates back to the 17th century in Great Britain to a writer named John Dryden who is believed to be the first person to posit that English sentences should not end in prepositions because it was against the rules of Latin grammar.
Dryden created the prescription against preposition stranding in 1672 when he objected to Ben Johnson’s 1611 phrase, “the bodies that those souls were frightened from,” although he didn’t offer an explanation of the rationale that gave rise to his preference. The real reason was a political one. John Dryden was a writer representative of the Restoration movement in England after puritanical Oliver Cromwell and Parliament was defeated in 1660.
“Puritans” as the name given to the 16th century to an extreme group of Protestants within the Church of England who thought the English Reformation had not gone far enough in reforming the doctrines and structure of the church. They wanted to purify their national church by eliminating every shred of Catholic influence. In addition, they wanted the Church of England purified of any liturgy, ceremony or practices which were not found in the Scripture. Thus the name “Puritans.” The Bible was their sole authority, and they believed it applied to every area and level of life.
One of the main belief of the Puritans was that if you worked hard, you would get to heaven. Pointless enjoyment was frowned upon. Many inns and theaters were all closed down. Most sports were banned. Boys caught playing football on a Sunday could be shipped as a punishment. In some districts bear-baiting, cock-fighting, horse-racing and wrestling were banned. Betting and gambling were also forbidden. Large numbers of ale-houses were closed. Even theaters were closed.
The Puritans lost control after the Restoration in 1660. The term “Restoration” is used to describe both the real event by which the monarchy was restored, and the several years afterwards in which a new political settlement was established. Theaters reopened after having been closed and women were allowed to perform on stage for the first time.
In literature perhaps the most outstanding result of the Restoration was the reopening of the theaters, which had been closed since 1642, and a consequent great revival of the drama. The drama of the period was marked by the brilliance of wit and licentiousness, which may have been a reflection of the freeness of court manners. This historical period is vividly brought to life in the diaries of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, and in poetry the Restoration is distinguished by the work of John Dryden and a number of other poets.
It is a literature that include the hysterical attack on theaters from Jeremy Collier, and pioneering of literary criticism from John Dryden and John Dennis. The English rule of the dangling preposition is a direct result of a reaction of the loose court manners of the new monarch Charles II. English grammar is thus tainted by political events.
About ending a sentence with a preposition some English experts say that you shouldn’t take it too seriously. “Forget about it.” If ending a sentence with a preposition is more graceful than not, go ahead and do it. Clarity, simplicity, and grace are what good writing is all about. I understand that the Columbia and Chicago style manuals agree on this matter. We all know the famous Winston Churchill line about ending a sentence with a preposition: “That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.” Some rules can be broken, as long as the communication is clear and graceful like a cloudless sky.
And now you know the controversial story behind the English grammar rule about dangling prepositions. Good Day.