I’ve read several articles lately that have made me question whether I’m just getting old and curmudgeonly about certain things. I’m a self-proclaimed old-schooler in many respects. I still want to put two spaces after a period (mainly out of fear of retribution from Mrs. Thomas, my high school typing teacher, who would thwack my knuckles with a ruler if I didn’t employ proper spacing). I still advocate the use of the serial comma after the second to last item in a list.
“Where are you at?” and “Where is it at?” are the grammatical equivalent of nails on a chalkboard to me. Is ending a sentence with a preposition a grammatical faux pas? Is it an urban grammatical myth? Or is it just irritating?
The Colonel would say, “Now, granddaughter, sometimes it’s ok to end a sentence with a preposition. Think about whether or not the sentence would work if you left out the preposition.” Ending a sentence with a preposition is part urban grammatical myth, part unnecessary and part absolutely necessary.
NECESSARY: “What did you trip over?” You can’t really say, “What did you trip?” That sounds more like you actually tripped something instead of tripping over something. And unless I was auditioning for Shakespeare, I probably wouldn’t say, “Over what did you trip?”
UNNECESSARY: “Where are you at?” I’m at the end of my rope with that sentence. “At” is unnecessary. I will say this is something I hear spoken more than I see it written. But, since the old-schooler in me believes that well-written is a direct correlation to well-spoken, it’s still a viable example. Unnecessary prepositions can also show up in the middle of sentences. For example, “There’s a stray cat outside of the door.” You don’t really need the “of” in that sentence. “There’s a stray cat outside the door.”
URBAN GRAMMATICAL MYTH: Grammar Girl offered some sage advice on this one, calling it “Cover Letter Grammar.” Because so many people see ending sentences with prepositions as a grammar rule, don’t do it on something like a cover letter. The person reading the letter might think that this is still an actual grammar rule and think you made a mistake. But, once you get the job, don’t be afraid to end your sentence with a preposition (as long as you skip the unnecessary ones). Be ready to dazzle your new boss with your grammatical prowess and have your style guide handy to prove your point.
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.