Sometimes things pop up in edits that I know is a product of “old” grammar rules that were forced down our throats in school and have stuck with us all these years. I’m talking about: ending sentences in prepositions, using ‘s to show possessive of a word ending in “s” and starting a sentence with conjunctions. This is a bit of a long post, but it’s actually got very useful information that I think all authors and/or editors should be aware of. (see how I ended my sentence in a preposition without even trying? lolol)

This post is especially for my friend, Erin, who left a comment about prepositions on one of my posts. My husband had left a comment on a post and he’d ended his sentence with a preposition. She left a comment about smacking him for doing that 😉 It struck me at the time, that because Erin is actually an editor of scientific articles for various medical journals she might not realize that’s an old rule, and no longer applies. And I know there are authors out there who might not realize the same for other old grammar rules.

I think many authors and editors of fiction recognize this now, but for some, those who grew up “old-school”, some of the rules still linger. The fact of the matter is, people speak in sentences ending prepositions. I’m from the Midwest and part of our dialect is sentence-ending prepositions “You want to go with?” is one of my favorite sayings. It’s not natural for us to rearrange our sentences to not end with prepositions because we’re a society of fairly casual speakers. Unless you’re writing a novel with a more stiff and formal tone/dialect, there’s no reason to worry excessively about ending your sentence with a preposition. When Erin posted that, I remembered once reading a cute story on the subject, so I hunted it down.

As the story goes, Winston Churchill was once taken to task for ending a sentence in a prepositon. His reply was allegedly this: “That’s the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put.”

Another source I stumbled on said this: Sometimes the “correct” wording is humorously awkward, as in, “Mr. Hunter cursed his memory of the milkman, away with which his wife ran.”

And I didn’t expect you all to take just my word for it, so I went to the Chicago Manual of Style website (which, by the way is now totally revamped as of this week and you can get the Manual online for $30 a year), and found this in their Q&A:

Q. Dear Sir or Madam, I’m having a disagreement with a coworker on a particular subject, and as my CMOS is at home, I can’t go to it for a ruling. I’m arguing that the prohibition against ending a sentence with a preposition is an invalid injunction—one that often serves to confuse and befuddle the reader by forcing tortured and mangled word placements. She says that the “rule” must be followed. So, is it appropriate to end a sentence with a preposition? Thank you.

A. That old rule was long ago abandoned by most usage manuals and grammar police. In my own writing, I no longer try to avoid ending with a preposition. That said, when I am editing a manuscript and come across a sentence that clearly has been structured to avoid the ending preposition, I do try to leave it alone. It is possible that the author is elderly or conservative, probably is meticulous, and would be upset by the interference. Only if the result is very awkward do I suggest ending with a preposition.

And Chicago Manual of Style’s definition of a preposition even includes the fact that one can, indeed, end a sentence:

A preposition is a word or phrase that links an object (a noun or noun equivalent) to another word in the sentence to show the relationship between them. A preposition’s object is usually a noun or pronoun in the objective case {between me and them}, but an adjective, adverb, verb, or phrase may follow instead. Usually a preposition comes before its object, but there are exceptions. For example, the preposition can end a clause, especially a relative clause, or sentence {this isn’t the pen that Steve writes with}. And a preposition used with the relative pronoun that (or with that understood) always follows the object {this is the moment [that] I’ve been waiting for}. It also frequently, but not always, follows the pronouns which {Which alternative is your decision based on?} {this is the alternative on which my decision is based} and whom {there is a banker [whom] I must speak with} {I can’t tell you to whom you should apply}.

But not being able to end a sentence with a preposition isn’t the only grammar rule that people still cling to. What about when you have a name like…Chris. And you want to show the possessive of his name. How would you do that?

A. That is Chris’ bat.
B. That is Chris’s bat.

Most people would say that if a name or an object ends in an “s” that possession is shown only by the apostrophe. No ‘s is used. Not so. That’s another “old” grammar rule that no longer applies. It’s now widely accepted that ‘s provides clarity, looks better to the eye, and sounds better than the old, more formal rule, of using only the apostrophe.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style:

Q. How does one make the following names possessive (and all first names that end in “s”)? James, Iris.

A. Chicago style adds an apostrophe and an s: James’s, Iris’s. But please see CMOS 7.17–23 for more examples and exceptions to the rule.

CMOS 7.17–23 The possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s, and the possessive of plural nouns (except for a few irregular plurals that do not end in s) by adding an apostrophe only. This practice, used in conjunction with the exceptions and options outlined in 7.19–22, reflects the way possessive forms are generally pronounced and is largely faithful to Strunk and White’s famous rule 1 (“Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ’s”). Since feelings on these matters sometimes run high, users of this manual may wish to modify or add to the exceptions. For an alternative practice, see 7.23. See also 5.25–27.

The general rule covers most proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z, in both their singular and plural forms, as well as letters and numbers.

Kansas’s legislature
Chicago’s lakefront
Burns’s poems
Marx’s theories
Berlioz’s works
Strauss’s Vienna
Dickens’s novels

To avoid an awkward appearance, an apostrophe without an s may be used for the possessive of singular words and names ending in an unpronounced s. Opt for this practice only if you are comfortable with it and are certain that the s is indeed unpronounced.

Descartes’ three dreams
the marquis’ mother

And their final word on it:

7.23An alternative practice

Those uncomfortable with the rules, exceptions, and options outlined above may prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s—hence “Dylan Thomas’ poetry,” “Maria Callas’ singing,” and “that business’ main concern.” Though easy to apply, that usage disregards pronunciation and thus seems unnatural to many.

Beginning sentences with a conjunction. This is something that you’ll hear authors argue over and go back and forth. Some say never, ever. Some say when not overused, and that is what I have always believed, as well. Let’s consult the Chicago Manual of Style (thanks to my 30 day free trial of the online contents!) and I found one part particularly interesting, in light of this post for the day, so I’m putting it in italics:

There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions.

It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice. Charles Allen Lloyd’s 1938 words fairly sum up the situation as it stands even today: “Next to the groundless notion that it is incorrect to end an English sentence with a preposition, perhaps the most wide-spread of the many false beliefs about the use of our language is the equally groundless notion that it is incorrect to begin one with ‘but’ or ‘and.’ As in the case of the superstition about the prepositional ending, no textbook supports it, but apparently about half of our teachers of English go out of their way to handicap their pupils by inculcating it. One cannot help wondering whether those who teach such a monstrous doctrine ever read any English themselves.”7

Still, but as an adversative conjunction can occasionally be unclear at the beginning of a sentence. Evaluate the contrasting force of the but in question and see whether the needed word is really and; if and can be substituted, then but is almost certainly the wrong word. Consider this example: He went to school this morning. But he left his lunchbox on the kitchen table. Between those sentences is an elliptical idea, since the two actions are in no way contradictory. What is implied is something like this: He went to school, intending to have lunch there, but he left his lunch behind. Because and would have made sense in the passage as originally stated, but is not the right word. To sum up, then, but is a perfectly proper way to open a sentence, but only if the idea it introduces truly contrasts with what precedes. For that matter, but is often an effective way of introducing a paragraph that develops an idea contrary to the one preceding it.

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