Okay, I'm probably being a bit slow here, but I don't quite understand this story:

Supposedly an editor had clumsily rearranged one of Churchill’s sentences to avoid ending it in a preposition, and the Prime Minister, very proud of his style, scribbled this note in reply: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

I mean, it made me laugh, but that was mostly because of how stupid it sounded, not because I actually understand what's going on here. Anyone care to explain it? In particular, which are the prepositions?


3 Answers 3

  • This is the sort of English I will not put up with.

"With" is a preposition (and it's "wrong" to end a sentence with one.)

  • This is the sort of English with which I will not put up.

"Up" is still a preposition, so we gotta change it again.

  • This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.

And there we have Churchill's response.

(PS. I am ignoring whether it's actually his response, or his altered response, or what have you, and focusing on the initial question. :) )

  • 2
    I think "up" in this instance is not considered a preposition, since it is part of the verb phrase "put up", which has a meaning distinct from "put".
    – Kit Z. Fox
    May 18, 2011 at 0:31
  • I'd agree, actually. But Churchill seemed to be taking this to the extreme.
    – emragins
    May 18, 2011 at 0:51
  • @emragins: Yes, I deliberately refrained from mentioning that confusion in my question, as it was pretty clearly not relevant to the issue I was curious about.
    – SamB
    May 18, 2011 at 3:10
  • Hmm, I guess a big part of why this sound so silly is the separation of the "put" and "up" in the term "put up". Actually, come to think of it, isn't "put up with" pretty much atomic here? It's kind of funny that I could even understand the sentence that way...
    – SamB
    May 18, 2011 at 3:19
  • Yep... I think that's entirely the point and what makes it so funny.
    – emragins
    May 18, 2011 at 4:09

It sounded stupid because the normal way of saying that is "this is the sort of English I won't put up with" which ends in a preposition.

He was making a point that sometimes it is better to end a sentence with a preposition rather than slavishly following alleged rules. (Alleged because it IS ok to end a sentence with a preposition.)


As I learned the quote, he didn't have a problem with the "English" involved, but with the prescriptivist busybody who had red-pencilled one of his speeches.

The quote, as I learned it, was "This is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put."


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