Prepositions at the end?

I think we all want our writing to sound educated and sophisticated. We might not always speak eloquently, but we try hard to impress when it’s in writing. I know this is especially true from personal experience when teachers get around to report card writing. Suddenly they (we, when I was teaching) take on a voice that almost seems alien. But in general, I think that once we decide to put something into writing, we panic (at times) and start to lose our voice. Suddenly we try to remember all of the grammar rules we can think of from school.

So friends, can you actually end a sentence with a preposition? I know a lot of folks reword their sentences to avoid using a preposition at the end, but is that even necessary? Is that rule even applicable? Can we finally take a deep breath and allow our sentences to end with a preposition?

The rule to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition comes from the 1700s in England (according to Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Conner). As with a lot of grammar rules, this rule allowed people another way to communicate their level of education (perhaps). For maybe hundreds of years, students have been taught that to end in a preposition isn’t formal. I think that a lot of great sentences were probably rewritten by eager students (and eager former students), trying desperately to follow all of the grammar rules. I can maybe see why (maybe) this was a rule if I try (really hard) to understand what a preposition is.

Prepositions

The word itself means position before. Prepositions are functional, and very useful, and they show direction, location, and time (on, to, from, over, at, by, with, under, and many more). They help us to explain things with more clarity (often).

Do you remember School House Rock? They made a video about prepositions (which is worth the time to see). Some examples of prepositions in sentences are, He was on the bus with his friends. She went over the hurtle. It was written by Marx. He came from over there.

What’s the rule?

In my opinion, I think that when grammar is taught, we often freeze and feel a lot of responsibility. So if there’s a book of rules created, we teach that book (there’s no time to research an abstract grammar rule when you’re a teacher!). And that’s how I think we ended up holding onto the rule that you can’t end a sentence with a preposition for so long. It just kept being taught, and thousands of writers continued to follow it after they left school.

Any of the websites that you look at online when you research ending sentences in prepositions say it’s not a rule! Some might try to convince you that ending a sentence in a prepositions is less formal, but it’s not. Friends, stop rewriting those sentences! It was never a good rule, authors never used it, stop teaching this rule, and don’t worry so much about the word your sentence ends on. There’s nothing to worry about. That rule is over. (And I could carry on with sentences ending in prepositions).

The big takeaway here is that grammar changes (and that some rules are made to be broken). We are so fortunate to have the internet and we can research quickly. If you’re not sure, look at multiple sources. In this case—the case of whether or not to end a sentence with a preposition—you will find that you are free. Carry on. End with a preposition if you want to. Throw this old rule out. Don’t get left behind.

And happy writing!

Photo by Ian Barsby on Unsplash

The en dash (I say, writer’s choice)

In my opinion, the en dash is the most misused punctuation mark we have. Or I guess to be more accurate, the en dash is the punctuation we should use, technically, yet don’t use. I think most people are comfortable with the hyphen, so the en dash gets left out. But, that might be a conscious choice for some publishers . . . we might see the end of the en dash soon (maybe we already have?).

When I was teaching, I tried to bring the en dash into the classroom, but it created a lot of confusion for my students because it is a similar size to the hyphen. So what is an en dash? An en dash is used to show a range or span of numbers, dates, or time. Basically, the en dash means “to” or “through.” As in, pages 5 through 7, pages 5–7), or a score of 49 to 15, 49–15).

As with every punctuation mark, the en dash has a complicated life. Much like the em dash, it’s tricky to create an en dash on computers, and often requires inserting it as a specific symbol. This is why I think we don’t use it: it seems to require more work than it’s worth. For instance, did you know that in most papers that use citations, en dashes are technically required, but because so few people use the en dash properly in citations, the hyphen is often accepted. So if we don’t see it in action properly, how can we know when and where to use it?

Fun fact: In the UK, writers use the en dash the same way that writers in the US and Canada use an em dash.

The en dash got it’s name years ago when printing required an actual printing press. The en dash is the same width as an uppercase N on the printing press, and so the name stuck. For some reason, publishers decided that a they needed something new, something to communicate to their readers different information. They didn’t want to use hyphens (which have a specific job), and they wanted the en dash to do different work than the em dash, so they met in the middle: a punctuation mark longer than a hyphen, but shorter than an em dash.

Fun fact: Several sources say that the en dash helps to add clarity with complex compound adjectives.

So why of this important? Why does it matter? All punctuation was created for a reason, and that reason was to add clarity to writing for the readers. But do we readers even notice if someone has used an en dash or a hyphen? Probably not. (Can you truly spot the difference?: 14-8; 14–8) So I say, the en dash is probably the one punctuation mark that you can forget about, not use when you should, and honestly completely ignore and your reader will never notice the difference. So, happy writing. And to en dash or not? Writer’s choice.

Photo by Daria Kraplak on Unsplash