April 22, 2004

Foresetnes

There’s an interesting post on Language Log about phrasal verbs and which verbs are permitted to take these so-called “prepositions”. I think Mark Liberman is dead on here. This does represent an older linguistic pattern which has survived to the modern English.

This interesting discussion has inspired me to write on a topic which perscriptive grammarians often make erroneous statements about: ending a sentence with a “preposition”. What perscriptivists don’t seem to realise is that up in sentences like “He cleaned up” or “She finished up” is not a preposition at all. It is more accurately thought of as akin to the separable prefix of separable prefix verbs in German, and due to the Germanic principle of embraciation, the normal word order for such separable prefixes is often the end of a sentence. Ending sentences with such separable prefixes was perfectly normal word order in Old English and in Middle English, and is still normal and acceptable in Modern English. So don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t end a sentence in a “preposition”.

As an interesting aside, I should point out that in Old English prepositions sometimes come after the noun they govern (as in him biforan ‘before him’).

Posted by Mark at April 22, 2004 11:46 PM
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