What’s Your Preposition?

A reader of this column writes:

“I appreciate how Early to Rise expands my vocabulary and answers grammar questions. I heard recently that it is not proper to end a sentence with a preposition. For example, ‘Please let me know if there is anything else you need help with’ or ‘This is what I was thinking of.’”

In The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein notes that the rule commanding us never to end a sentence with a preposition is groundless. Indeed, doing so is often natural and idiomatic: “Bob can be counted on.” “What are you talking about?”

Another excellent guide, Garner’s Modern American Usage, calls the rule “spurious” and “a superstition.”

But wait. Another factor applies here, one that’s often overlooked. We communicate in different contexts and at different levels. We speak in both informal and formal settings, and writing is also either colloquial or more polished, depending on circumstances.

Thus, our reader’s “Please let me know if there is anything else you need help with” is acceptable in informal speech and writing. But “Please let me know if there is anything else with which you need help” would be appropriate, and perhaps preferable, in edited writing or while conversing at, say, a diplomatic ball.

Conventions should sometimes be respected, even if permissivists denounce them as “superstitions.” In other than casual situations, it makes sense to take the more cautious and traditional route, unless the result sounds awkward or pretentious.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]