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Welcome to issue #35 of Words Matter, our bi-weekly newsletter
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Peter Picked a Pickled Preposition
"Please turn the light on," said Alice. Earl replied, "Don't end a sentence with a preposition." Alice corrected: "Then turn the light on, please."
You may have heard a "rule" against ending a sentence with a preposition, and you may even have been corrected for doing so. In today's Words Matter I'd like to set something straight. Many times, those "prepositions" that people end sentences with are not prepositions at all, but adverbs that help define the verb.
Consider these two sentences:
down the price. (not a preposition)
down the street. (preposition)
off the mail. (not a preposition)
The car dropped off a cliff. (preposition)
Can you detect the differences? The words down and off are sometimes prepositions (often indicating place), but sometimes they simply add to the meaning of the verb: drive down the price = reduce; drop off the mail = deliver. (You may remember that this is all part of the double nature of English because of the Battle of Hastings in 1066!) Now look at these sentences:
Competition drives the price
Phil dropped the mail
You can see how the words down and off are movable in these examples. You would not hear, "Let's drive the street down" or "The car dropped a cliff off", because "down the street" and "off a cliff" are true prepositional phrases.
Notice these examples of the movable adverb in English:
blow out the candles
blow the candles out
stop up the sink
stop the sink up
hand in a paper
hand a paper in
take off the shirt
take the shirt off
drive off mosquitoes
drive mosquitoes off
Sometimes words like these are not movable. You can glance through a magazine but you would not say glance a magazine through. You can look at a picture, but you wouldn't say look a picture at.
And sometimes such words are movable in one context but unmovable in another:
around the corner.
(but NOT whipped the corneraround)
whipped around the rope.
(but also whipped the rope around)
In any case, the word you put at the end of a sentence might be part of the verb's meaning (for example, "look a word up"--to search), and not a preposition (as it is in "look up a flagpole"). So, Earl's admonition at the beginning is something Alice really should not have put up with. Not only is it ill-informed grammar--it's also not something worth quibbling over. Carry on! --R.D. "Doc" Larrick
Enjoy this brief student video that comes directly from WordBuildonLine Foundations Level 2.
The suffix LY
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