Hanging or Stranded Prepositions

Most of us were taught a rule at school. Very few of the rules of grammar actually stuck, but this one did. Or at least with many of us.

The so-called rule was that it was wrong to leave a preposition (eg: by, with, from, in, on, up, to) at the end of a sentence. We were told that “With what are you playing?” was correct and “What are you playing with?” was wrong. No explanation was offered: it was simply the way the gods of English language had settled the matter in prehistory.

If you have laboured under this delusion all your life now is the times to cast off those shackles. It is not wrong to end a sentence with a preposition and never has been. I am not expounding some new theory or debunking a good old rule just to be troublesome. It was never a valid rule and should not have been taught.

It originated with Dryden who abhorred hanging prepositions and then became part of the mythology peddled by classicists who were determined that English grammar should resemble the constructions of  the Latin language. And we have been lumbered with it ever since.

In formal writing it may sometimes be preferable to tuck in a preposition, however. It may feel more appropriate because usage has been ingrained.

For example, an exam question may ask: From which town did Humphrey Clinker travel? This might be preferable to: Which town did Humphrey Clinker travel from?

But in normal speech and non-formal writing our hanging prepositions 2attempts to avoid the hanging preposition feel stilted and awkward. This a lesson which all copy-editors and proofreaders should take to heart. To tuck in authors’ prepositions is not editing: it is the murder of their style!

One of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” continues:

“The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to…”

Hands up who wants to edit that!


By |January 5th, 2015|Categories: Latest News|Tags: , , , , , |Comments Off on GRAMMAR TIP: PREPOSITIONS

About the Author:

Richard is a director of Chapterhouse. His lifelong love of books led him from the law to publishing. His favourite animal is the rhinoceros and his favourite modern play is Jerusalem. Strangely, perhaps, he is fanatical about football and modern novels.