There are numerous myths relating to grammatical dos and don’ts, many of which were drummed into us at school. The one that stubbornly refuses to budge from my mind is the diktat ‘never begin a sentence with a conjunctionsuch as and or but’. And why not, pray?*
Some of these groundless rules (termed ‘fetishes’ by Henry Fowler in 1926) have a long history. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, some notable writers (aka Latin-obsessed 17th century introverts) tried to make English grammar conform to that of Latin – hence the veto on split infinitives and also the ruling against the ending of a sentence with a preposition (also called stranding ordeferring a preposition).
These and other language myths are amazingly persistent, though, so who you gonna call? Oxford’s Myth Debunkers, of course! To kick off this occasional series, let’s try to zap the one about stranded prepositions and lay it to rest once and for all.
A prepositional primer
First, a quick recap of the basics:
- A preposition is a word such as with, by, on, in, at, to, or about.
- Prepositions are a class of word used to express the relationship between the elements of a sentence or clause.
- A preposition connects a verb, noun, or adjective to a noun or pronoun and is typically, but not always, found before the noun or pronoun in a sentence or clause.
- The noun or pronoun that follows the preposition forms a ‘prepositional object’ (or complement). You should therefore use pronouns in the objective (for instance, me, her, him, us) rather than the subjective form (I, she, he, we).
- The relationship between the preposition and the other elements can describe:
– time (we’re meeting him on Tuesday)
– the way in which something is done (I went to Milan by train)
– place or position (the cat was under the table; we met at the station)
– possession (a friend of mine)
– purpose (the operation was done for the best of reasons)