Up with which we will not put
Lowth amplified Dryden's anxiety
over placing a preposition at the end of a sentence:
The preposition is often separated from the relative which
it governs, and joined to the Verb at the end of the
Sentence, or of some member of it: as, 'Horace is an author,
whom I am much delighted with'.
well aware that this is a normal English-speaking practice in
This is an idiom, which our language is strongly inclined
to: it prevails in common conversation, and suits very well
the familiar style in writing.
'strong inclination' can in fact be traced back to early Middle
English. But doubtless the etymology of the word weighed heavily
with him: if it is a preposition, it must go before, not after; and
but the placing of the preposition before the Relative is
more graceful, as well as more perspicuous; and agrees much
better with the solemn and elevated style.
last part of this sentence is accurate enough: it is indeed the case
that the difference between the two constructions is one of
formality. That's the bus I was travelling in is much more
informal than That is the bus in which I was travelling. And
if Lowth had gone on to recommend that both be used in their
appropriate circumstances, informal and formal, there would be no
that is not what prescriptive grammarians are for. Their role is not
to recognize and applaud variety, but to condemn and eliminate it.
Lowth, as Murray after him, wants
only the formal alternative to be used. The argument about
perspicuity is totally beside the point: it is not the case that one
version is any more or less clear than the other. The two sentences
are synonymous. And the argument from gracefulness is irredeemably
subjective: what Lowth might consider graceful another writer might
Nor are prescriptive grammarians very good at avoiding the practices
that they are in the process of condemning. In the above
prescription, Lowth actually ends one of his sentences with a
preposition: "... which our language is strongly inclined to."
Murray, taking over the point wholesale, must have noticed, for in
his Grammar he corrects it:
"This is an idiom to which our language is strongly inclined."
But even Murray lets his guard down from time to time: on p. 40 of
his book we read
"so convenient is it to have one acknowledged standard to recur to."
then lists a number of bad examples, which ought to be avoided in an
age of politeness. They include two Shakespearean instances: Who
servest thou under? from Henry V, and Who do you speak
to? from As You Like It. The implication is plain: if
even Shakespeare can get it wrong, what chance do ordinary people
have? But there is a solution: face can be saved by following the
practices recommended by the grammarian.
good practice could be achieved only by practice. Here are two of
the test sentences relating to end-placed prepositions in Lindley
Murray's follow-up book: English Exercises, Adapted to the
Grammar Lately Published, which appeared in 1797. Section 5 (p.
174) adumbrated: "A fifth rule for the strength of sentences, is to
avoid concluding them with an adverb, a preposition, or an
By what I have already expressed, the reader will perceive
the business which I am to proceed upon.
Generosity is a showy virtue, which many persons are very
at the back of the book tells us that the correct versions are
upon which I am to proceed and of which many persons are very
fond. The examples are plainly formal in character, and if we
sense a stylistic inelegance, especially in the first sentence, it
is due to the inconsistency of using both preposed and postposed
prepositions in the same construction (by what ... proceed upon).
The utterance is plainly part of a discourse of some intellectual
content, requiring carefully articulated expression, and it is
disturbing to see it change stylistic level halfway through. Such
observations could form part of an instructive lesson on English
style, in which the stylistic force of the alternative constructions
would be compared and contrasted.
that is not how things went. Schoolchildren learned a
black-and-white rule: one should never end a sentence with a
preposition. As Winston Churchill was later to remark: that kind of
English was something up with which he would not put.
David Crystal. The Stories of English
(Penguin Books, 2005)