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Famously, if not accurately, Winston Churchill is supposed to have responding to an editor who had "fixed" a sentence ending with a preposition by writing, "This is the sort of thing up with which I will not put." The terminal preposition/adverb construction is often required in German grammar and I am asking if the English "rule" that proscribes the usage arose as an expression of anti-German sentiment around about the time either the two world wars started up. What is the history of this "rule?"

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    It's earlier than that. It's not a question of World War-era avoidance of German similarities, but of Victorian idolisation of Latin/French—in which final prepositions are ungrammatical (for real ungrammatical, not bogus-ungrammatical like in English). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 7 '13 at 0:53
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: Hmm that sounds very plausible. Ending with a preposition is somewhat possible in Greek, but still uncommon. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Nov 7 '13 at 4:09
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    It appears to date at least to Dryden, and a century later to Lowth. It's just an faddish peeve deified and promulgated by a lot of people with some taste, some peculiar ideas about the relation between moral and oral behavior, and far too much time on their hands. – John Lawler Nov 7 '13 at 4:23
  • if the English "rule" ... arose as an expression of anti-German sentiment : What prompted you to the hypothesis? Homework, homework! :) I see a PhD for myself there. – Kris Nov 7 '13 at 5:41
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    @Kris, I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘non-question’. The asker recognises that the rule is humbug and asks how it arose, then, since it’s not an actual rule of English grammar. That his own hypothesis does not end up being correct is not reason enough to close-vote. And to FumbleFingers, it’s not really a duplicate of that: that question does not deal with the history of the ‘rule’ came to be so popularly propagated, only with how (in)correct the rule is, which this question does not deal with. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 7 '13 at 17:32
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From Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (1989):

Where did this "cherished superstition" come from? It seems to have originated with the 17th-century English poet, playwright, and essayist John Dryden. In 1672, Dryden wrote a piece of criticism called "Defence of the Epilogue," the main purpose of which was to demonstrate that the English use by writers of Dryden's time was superior to that of an earlier generation of writers. ... The italic line is from [Ben] Jonson's Catiline (1611); the comment on it is Dryden's:

"The bodies that those souls were frighted from.

"The Preposition in the end of the sentence; a common fault with him, and which I have but lately observ'd in my own writings."

As for the supposed anti-German aspect of the rule against ending sentences with prepositions, a Funk & Wagnalls booklet titled "Faulty Diction" (1915) offers this comment:

prepositions. Some authorities object to the use of a preposition as the final word in a sentence, but such usage is in accord with the genius of all the Teutonic languages. The correctness of such usage—often the necessity for it—is to be determined by the meaning intended to be conveyed.

It seems fairly clear that the author of this pamphlet (published at an early stage of the Great War) considered English to be among the "Teutonic languages" and hence capable of exercising its genius by placing prepositions at the end of sentences.

  • I should note that the phrase "cherished superstition" that WDEU quotes comes from Henry Fowler, an influential opponent of the supposed rule. – Sven Yargs Nov 12 '13 at 0:32
  • This is certainly the answer I will rely on. (Couldn't help my self.) Seriously, thank you. It was something I've wondered about for years and I didn't know how to begin to look it up. – Michael Owen Sartin Nov 12 '13 at 17:43

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