Watch your language


    Thank you for printing Barbara McKee’s letter (“Where Grammar Today Is At” The Malibu Times, April 27), regarding whether or not a preposition is a good word to end a sentence with.

    Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage contains an excellent two-page article on the subject, filed under “preposition at end.” It traces the history of the debate back to John Dryden’s 1672 essay, “Defence of the Epilogue,” and follows the arguments up to the present day, citing various authorities as they weigh in pro or con.

    A consensus seems to have developed among modern grammarians favoring the abolition of the rule against terminal prepositions. Typical of them is Patricia T. O’Connor in her book, “Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English.” She writes that the “English clergyman Robert Lowth wrote the first grammar book to say that a preposition shouldn’t go at the end of a sentence. This idea caught on, even though great literature from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Milton is bristling with sentences ending in prepositions. Nobody knows why the notion stuck – possibly because it’s closer to Latin grammar, or perhaps because the word preposition means ‘position before,’ which seems to suggest that a preposition can’t come last. At any rate, this is a rule that modern grammarians have long tried to get us out from under.”

    However the chips may fall, I salute Barbara McKee for caring about grammar. I think a tremendous amount of what happens in our lives hinges on our use of language. We do well to mind our grammar and use our language effectively, and I hope those lucky McKee grandchildren will someday appreciate how much it means that somebody cared.

    Finally – I can’t resist – here’s this from E.B. White: A father goes upstairs to read his son a bedtime story. But he brings the wrong book, so he goes downstairs and returns with the right one. His son says, ” What did you bring that book I didn’t want to be read aloud to out of up for?”

    Steve Clark

    (The one on Las Flores)