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.]  

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.