Yet Another Myth
Here we have another myth, which I briefly mentioned in the section on prepositions:
Never end a sentence or clause with a preposition.
Actually, a sound rule would urge you to avoid ending sentences or clauses with prepositions in formal settings, as long as you don’t end up writing awkward sentences.
Following the rule, we would write:
What are you talking about?
Surely, not even a pedant would inquire:
About what are you talking?
Anyone who is in doubt about the frequency of occurrences over the centuries of prepositions placed at the end of clauses or sentences may wish to browse in the Oxford English Dictionary for about, by, for, from, etc. . . . New Fowler, p. 617.
New Fowler suggests that the formality of the setting should govern. In highly formal pieces, like a master’s thesis, you should try to avoid ending clauses with prepositions. But even in these formal settings, sentences sometimes demand a preposition at the end. In 1981, the London Review of Books wrote:
The conflict would be hard to live with.
The conflict would be hard with which to live.
A junior civil servant had tortuously reworded a sentence to avoid ending with a preposition. The prime minister scrawled across the page:
“This is nonsense up with which I will not put.” William Manchester, The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, vol. 1, p. 31 (1983).
|Child:||I want to be read to.|
|Nurse:||What book do you want to be read to out of?|
|Nurse returns with Swiss Family Robinson.|
|Child:||What did you bring me that book to be read to out of for?|