Monday, October 17, 2011

Never end a sentence with a preposition, at.

The biggest grammar superstition I know of is, "never end a sentence with a preposition." I think in most cases, this one has disappeared from usage. While "To whom are you speaking?" may be correct, "Who are you talking to?" sounds much less pretentious. I have to laugh when people try to speak "correctly" and end up speaking wrong. One day while I was in Brazil, I was talking with some Brazilians and they were all speaking incorrectly. They were not matching their verbs and subjects. They were saying things like "Did thou see?" and "Thou went?" so I chimed in with a "Why speakest thou in such a manner?" and they all started making fun of me. I then told them that I was in fact speaking their language correctly and they were the ones messing it up. They all got kind of quiet after that.
I believe that these rules aren't exactly rules, but more suggestions. Teachers teach them to students and the students try to learn. I believe that, for the most part, this system works because it's easier to break the rules correctly once you know them. I often joke with my friends that the coolest thing about learning the rules of English is that it grants me the power to break them properly. Many great authors do the same things - Shakespeare pretty much invented the "un-" prefix. Mark Twain wrote many parts of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in a southern dialect which is oftentimes hard to read. If a student wrote "I don't got none o' that at home. You wanna come buy some?" in a paper, it would be wrong and would probably need fixing. However, because Twain understood the language and "broke" the rules for a reason, and it worked.
Back to my main point - the students who learn all of these "superstitious rules" get them engrained in their heads because they need boundaries. However, once they mature a little more, they can be taught the exceptions to the rules. Absolutes are easier to understand than abstracts, so the teachers say "Never..." instead of "Try not to ... unless it fits better, and ... in which case, you might be able to ..." It gets too complicated that way. I hope this makes sense - it is late and I am tired.


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