A short lesson in prepositions and split infinitives.

Grammar Tutorial

A short lesson in prepositions and split infinitives.

Intro

A grammar expert will tell you not to use a preposition at the end of a sentence and not to split an infinitive. What they usually don’t tell you is why you shouldn’t. The answer has to with Latin grammar. This short lesson assumes that the reader is already familiar with prepositions and infinitives.

Sample Problem

Ante equum carrum ponere. This familiar Latin phrase is useful to explain English prepositions and infinitives. It means “To put the cart before the horse”. ‘Ante’ is a preposition meaning ‘before’ and can be used to refer to time or place. In Latin, prepositions always come before the word they modify. “Preposition” is a Latin derivative that literally means “placed before”.
‘Ponere’ is an infinitive that means “to put”. Take note that Latin infinitives are stated in one word rather than in English it is two words.

Questions:
1.) How does an understanding of Latin help you know why we don’t use prepositions at the end of English sentences?

2.) How does an understanding of Latin help you know why we shouldn’t split English infinitives?

3.) Should English follow Latin grammar rules?

Solution

1.) Traditionally English grammars would not allow prepositions to be used at the end of a sentence because if it were to be done in Latin, it would be wrong.

2.) Latin infinitives cannot be split since they are made in one word, Therefore English grammars adopted the rule as well.

3.) English is not Latin! These “rules” we have used in our grammars are really more a matter of convention than anything else. English can allow for prepositions at the end of sentences, and it can suffer through a split infinitive. In fact, it can be preferable to break these conventions for various effects. However, it is tantamount that these conventions are understood before they are broken. English grammar rules are not arbitrary although sometimes they need not always be followed so closely. Language is both a science and an art.



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