(i) Ending sentences with prepositions.
Do not hesitate to end a sentence with a preposition if your ear tells you that that is where the preposition goes best. There used to be a rather half-hearted grammarian's rule against doing this, but no good writer ever heeded it, except Dryden, who seems to have invented it. The translators of the Authorised Version did not know it ("but I have a baptism to be baptised with"). The very rule itself; if phrased "do not use a preposition to end a sentence with", has a smoother flow and a more idiomatic ring than "do not use a preposition with which to end a sentence". Sometimes, when the final word is really a verbal particle, and the verb's meaning depends on it, they form together a phrasal verb—put up with for instance—and to separate them makes nonsense. It is said that Sir Winston Churchill once made this marginal comment against a sentence that clumsily avoided a prepositional ending: "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put". The ear is a pretty safe guide. Nearly a hundred years ago Dean Alford protested against this so-called rule. "I know", he said, "that I am at variance with the rules taught at very respectable institutions for enabling young ladies to talk unlike their elders. But that I cannot help." The story is well known of the nurse who performed the remarkable feat of getting four (32) prepositions at the end of a sentence by asking her charge: "What did you choose that book to be read to out of for?" She said what she wanted to say perfectly clearly, in words of one syllable, and what more can one ask?
But the championship of the sport of preposition-piling seems now to have been wrested from the English nurse by an American poet:
I lately lost a preposition
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair
And angrily I cried, "Perdition!
Up from out of in under there."
Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor,
And yet I wondered, "What should he come
Up from out of in under for?" (33)
(ii) Cannibalism by prepositions.
Cannibalism is the name given by Fowler to a vice that prepositions are specially prone to, though it may infect any part of speech. One of a pair of words swallows the other:
Any articles for which export licences are held or for which licences have been applied.
The writer meant "or for which export licences have been applied for", but the first for has swallowed the second.
For circumlocutory prepositions (in regard to and the like) (see earlier).
(iii) Some particular prepositions.
(a) Between and among. The O.E.D. tells us not to heed those who tell us that between must only be used of two things and that when there are more the preposition must be among. It says:
Between is still the only word available to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and individually, among expressing a relationship to them collectively and vaguely: we should not say "the space lying among the three points", or "a treaty among three powers" or "the choice lies among the three candidates in the select list" or "to insert a needle among the closed petals of a flower".
(b) Between each. Grammarians generally condemn the common use of between with each or every, as in "there will be a week's interval between each sitting". It is arguable that this can be justified as a convenient way of saying "between each sitting and the next", and that, considering how common it is, only pedantry can object. But those who want to be on the safe side can say either "weekly intervals between the sittings" or "a week's interval after each sitting".
(c) Between . . . or and between. .. and between. If between is followed by a conjunction, this must always be a simple and. It is wrong to say: "the choice lies between Smith or Jones", or to say "we had to choose between taking these offices and making the best of them and between perhaps finding ourselves with no offices at all". If a sentence has become so involved that and is not felt to be enough it should be recast. This mistake is not unknown in high places:
It is thought that the choice lies between Mr. Trygve Lie continuing for another year or the election of Mr. Lester Pearson.
(d) For between you and I see I and me
(e) Due to. Owing to long ago established itself as a prepositional phrase. But the orthodox still keep up the fight against the attempt of due to to do the same: they maintain that due is an adjective and should not be used otherwise. That means that it must always have a noun to agree with. You may say: "Floods due to a breach in the river bank covered a thousand acres of land". But you must not say: "Due to a breach in the river bank a thousand acres of land were flooded". In the first due to agrees properly with floods, which were in fact due to the breach. In the second it can only agree with a thousand acres of land, which were not due to the breach, or to anything else except the Creation.
Due to is rightly used in:
The closing of the telephone exchange was due to lack of equipment. (Due to agrees with closing.)
The delay in replying has been due to the fact that it was hoped to call upon you. (Due to agrees with delay.)
Due to is wrongly used in:
We must apologise to listeners who missed the introduction to the talk due to a technical fault.
As listeners probably know, there was no play at Trent Bridge to-day due to the rain.
Fowler, remarking that the prepositional use of due to was "now as common as can be" said "perhaps idiom will beat the illiterates; perhaps the illiterates will beat idiom; our grandsons will know". Now that this construction may be found in The Times and is freely used by BBC announcers, it seems clear that idiom is fighting a losing battle.
(f) Following. Grammarians do not admit following as a preposition, though its use as one is becoming so common that they may soon have to give it de facto recognition. The orthodox view is that it is the participle of the verb follow, and must have a noun to agree with, as it has in:
Such rapid promotion, following his exceptional services, was not unexpected.
But as a preposition it is unnecessary when it usurps the place of in consequence of, in accordance with, or as a result of, as in:
Following judgments of the High Court, Ministers of Religion are not regarded as employed under a contract of service.
It has been brought to my notice following a recent visit of an Inspector of this Ministry to the premises of. . . that you are an insured person under the Act.
Following heavy rain last night the wicket is very wet.
Still less can there be any justification for it with a merely temporal significance. It might perhaps put in a plea for a useful function as meaning something between the two—between the propter hoc of those prepositional phrases and the post hoc of after. This announcement might claim that justification:
A man will appear at Bow Street this morning following the destruction of Mr. Reg Butler's statue of the Political Prisoner.
But the word shows little sign of being content with that rather subtle duty. More and more, under the strong lead of B.B.C. announcers, it is becoming merely a pretentious substitute for after.
Following the orchestral concert, we come to a talk by Mr. X.
Following that old English tune, we go to Latin-America for the next one.
(g) Prior to. There is no good reason to use prior to as a preposition instead of before. Before is simpler, better known and more natural, and therefore preferable. It is moreover at least questionable whether prior to has established itself as a preposition. By all means use the phrase a prior engagement, where prior is doing its proper job as an adjective. But do not say that you made an engagement prior to receiving the second invitation.
Mr. X has requested that you should submit to him, immediately prior to placing orders, lists of components.
Sir Adrian Boult is resting prior to the forthcoming tour of the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra.
In sentences such as these prior to cannot have any advantage over the straightforward before.
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