“Maybe at last,” wrote Jack Smith, the late great author and Los Angeles Times columnist, “we are throwing out old Miss Thistleblossom’s notion that the preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with.”
He added: “If we could purge the English-speaking world of this foolish teaching, we might eliminate the tortured sentences that our speakers and writers contrive in ritual avoidance of the terminal preposition.”
To bolster his position, Smith quoted the famous literary stylist and grammar expert E.B. White, co-author of the classic manual, The Elements of Style. Smith cites a letter White wrote, containing these words: “The next grammar book I bring out I want to tell how to end a sentence with five prepositions. A father of a little boy goes upstairs after supper to read to his son, but he brings the wrong book. The boy says, ‘What did you bring the book that I don’t want to be read to out of up for?’”
White’s letter was written about a half-century ago, and Smith’s column in 1984, but alas, some folks still haven’t gotten the word. In a recent column, one very experienced writer, whose name we won’t mention, was talking about her son, a high school assistant principal. Demonstrating the kind of “tortured sentence” Smith was lamenting, she wrote: “He knows from where kids are coming.”
“Ritual avoidance,” indeed! In fairness to this lady, whose column I enjoy reading, her editor may have rearranged her words, in the mistaken belief that a preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with.