… that is the type of pedantry up with which I shall not put

Photo Credit: Yousuf Karsh. Library and Archives Canada, e010751643

This famous quote attributed to Churchill exemplifies one of the more common grammatical quandaries we puzzle over (or should that be ‘over which we puzzle’?). Is it ok to end a sentence with a preposition? English grammar and punctuation are full of traps like this for the unwary writer of our idiosyncratic and somewhat elastic language.

Apostrophes are often found trespassing where they have no right to be. They frequently crop up in the 1970’s (like that) and other decades. Other niggles that cause the pedant to reach for his red pen are arbitrary use of capitals, as in I Think This is Very Important, therefore it must have capitals, and the indiscriminate use of exclamation marks – because I think this is funny so should you.

Another frequently broken rule is the ‘fewer’ or ‘less’ one. Readers may remember the great Tesco dilemma occasioned by the notorious sign ‘5 items or less’. I note they no longer display this sign so have clearly given up trying to understand what the fuss was about. (Just to clarify, it should be ‘fewer items’ so you would be purchasing ‘less food’).

We pedants of grammar run the risk of attracting fierce criticism from other pedants who descend like vultures on our mistakes. Nevertheless, I firmly maintain that the rules of grammar help in the greater understanding of the written word and even contribute to the peace of nations, though perhaps not to peace among pedants of the language.

To return to Churchill’s quote, like other grammatical trends, preposition endings have become fashionable and often result in more elegant sentences. So let’s celebrate the flexibility of our language but stick to some well-tried rules so we can all understand one another a little better.