Random: My thoughts on prepositions

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The preposition at the end of a sentence is one of those grammar “rules” that is often disregarded, but the three main reasons it is there as a rule as I understand it are the following:

  1. To reduce redundancy.
  2. To increase clarity.
  3. To strengthen speech.

To illustrate #1, for example, the most commonly misused preposition that I’ve heard is “at.” It shows up in the sentence, “Let me tell you where I am at.” The preposition in this case is adding a layer of redundancy that isn’t necessary. Simply removing it, we are left with, “Let me tell you where I am.” This second version is stronger, because the emphasis is on the verb. People inherently know this, I think, because the usual formulation of the sentence actually goes like this: “Let me tell you where I’m at.” People will use the contracted form of “I am” but feel like something is missing, and so they will add the lingering “at” to finish the sentence.

To illustrate #2, I’ll use the short sentence, “He wants to go in.” In the 4th edition of the Prentice-Hall Reference Handbook (on Grammar and Usage), the author of the grammar text (who am I to argue with her) may be correct in saying the sentence can’t be rearranged, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good sentence. In most cases, “in” begs the question, “In what?” Therefore, the sentence would have greater clarity as “He wants to go into the house,” or even “He wants to go inside.” In the first case, “into” is a proper preposition and the better one to use with the verb “go,” and in the second case, “inside” is serving as an adverb. Either sentence gives greater clarity to the one cited in the text.

Thirdly, let’s consider the phrasing. “What kind of legacy will you leave behind?” Now, “behind” according to the dictionary, is a perfectly valid adverb and therefore is fine to stand on it’s own in that sentence. Additionally, some consider “leave behind” to be a “phrasal verb” and perfectly valid to stand without an object. However, the sentence could be strengthened by dropping the word “behind” altogether. “What kind of legacy will you leave?” Since the word “legacy” and the word “leave” both already imply “behind,” the sentence is stronger without the extra word.

Therefore, I submit to the statements of grammarians who are paid to study and shape the English language, and though I am an old fogey when it comes to grammatical precision and still believe that “they” is not an appropriate singular generic pronoun, I know I am in the minority. Nevertheless, if our speech can be improved in some way by following a grammatical rule, then let us be sticklers.

Onward and upward my friends! Let us hold each other to the highest standards.

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