Yes, that useless pseudo-rule against ending sentences with a preposition is a useless pseudo-rule

It always has been, and it always will be.

One of the many problems with arguing with strangers on the internet is that people insist upon things that they are not sure about. They argue, often heatedly and passionately, in favor of a point that they are not 100% sure is correct. Arguing about the value of one opinion over another is OK, though clearly millions of people get way too vicious and hateful about it every day. But if you’re arguing about some issue that is reasonably easily verified as true or false, then you aren’t really arguing: you’re either explaining why someone else is wrong or proving yourself ignorant.

Believe it or not, this happens fairly often between people arguing about language and grammar on the internet. The refusal of some people to understand that they are wrong on matters of fact or on matters of terminology or definitions, and their continued insistence that they are right about something that they haven’t even bothered to look up or cite any sources on, is the reason I no longer contribute to any discussion about language and grammar on any website, even when it seems like a simple matter of fact vs. falsehood.

For example, a couple years ago I commented in a flippant, dismissive way that “Never end a sentence with a preposition” is a useless pseudo-rule up with which I shall not put, etc. Someone responded with something like this:

I would argue there is no such thing as a “useless pseudo-rule” – there is only how people speak. In certain settings, avoiding ending your clauses with a preposition can make you sound erudite and cultured, and in some settings it can make your sound like a pompous twat with a stick up your ass. The only rule is that one should be aware of how best to communicate with one’s audience.

Clearly he or she did not understand what the word “rule” means. The reason some over-zealous schoolteachers and grammarians created that rule is because they considered it wrong to violate it; that’s what rule means. My point in calling it a pseudo-rule is that it was never actually a rule of grammar because it has never been wrong to violate it; they just concocted it to enforce stiff formality in school students; nothing about the history or evolution of English suggested that it was ungrammatical or even unwise to end sentences with prepositions. The reason I called it useless is because, well, if it is neither ungrammatical nor harmful to break it, then it doesn’t help and we shouldn’t pay attention to it at all!

Notice the internal contradictions in that person’s comment:

there is no such thing as a “useless pseudo-rule” – there is only how people speak

So you agree with me.

The only rule is that one should be aware of how best to communicate with one’s audience.

So you agree with me! If it isn’t wrong to break it, then it isn’t a rule! That’s what rule means! But since people tried to pass it off as a rule for decades, it is apt to call it a pseudo-rule.

It seems accurate to say that my use of both the words “useless” and “pseudo-rule” is redundant. Since “Never end a sentence with a preposition” is not and never was a rule of English grammar, that makes it useless as a rule per se.

But I also contend that it is useless as style advice. I think my interlocutor even agreed with that, although they were so busy being indignant and contradictory that they probably wouldn’t realize it:

In certain settings, avoiding ending your clauses with a preposition can make you sound erudite and cultured, and in some settings it can make your sound like a pompous twat with a stick up your ass.

That’s true of like a hundred different words, phrases, and grammatical constructs! There are no rules for or against using them! If it is true that X can be good or bad, then “It is a good idea to do X” is bad style advice, because it might in fact be a bad idea to do X. If you want to change your “rule” to “If the situation calls for it, then do X”, then, first, that’s different from “Always do X” or “Never do X”, which is the subject of this post and my original comment that spurred this idiocy, and second, it’s unhelpful (useless!) advice anyway because it doesn’t help writers determine when X is called for.

It is grammatical to end a sentence with a preposition or not. It can be good style to end a sentence with a preposition or not. If you go out of your way to write in an unnatural, stuffy way to put the preposition at the end of your clause, it will probably make you sound like a pompous twat who doesn’t recognize good style. That’s the whole of it! It’s not a rule and never was. It is not (often) good style advice. There is nothing to argue over. In some cases you can call it bad style, in some cases you can call it good style, and in other cases it doesn’t really matter. That’s why it’s not a rule at all, and that’s why it’s useless to even make an issue out of it.

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