“…They have a keen affinity for words, style, and grammar — so you don’t have to.”

When we first started Guiding Type, we came up with a pretty sweet chunk of copy to explain what we wanted to provide for clients. We put some version of this on our website, in pitch emails to clients, on flyers we distributed to bookstores and coffeehouses around town (#demographic).

After all that promotion, we only received one sort of negative comment from someone—asking why, if we were such experienced and knowledgeable writers, we allowed a dangling preposition to sneak into our promotional material.

Actually, we opened the door and invited it in for coffee.

What does it mean in grammar for something to be dangling?
When you end a sentence with a preposition, you rob it of its object—the thing to which it’s referring—in effect, “stranding” the preposition, all by its lonesome. That’s technically incorrect grammar.

You could say, “Who are you going with?” or “What are you talking about?” or “Did you make it in?”

A few ways you can combat the dangling preposition:

  • Rewrite the sentence to couple the preposition with its object: “With whom are you going?”
  • Complete the thought: “Did you make it in time?”
  • Rewrite the whole damn thing: “Do you remember talking about birds last week?”

Why do I have to ensure against dangling prepositions (or modifiers or participles) in my writing?

There’s a time and place for you to bend the rules of grammar just a little bit. Sure first you need to understand the rules, establish a sort of baseline, so that you can understand how you’re sidestepping convention when you write or speak.

A wrong place and time to bend these rules is in a white paper you’re working on for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

A good place and time to bend the rules is when you’re hanging out in a pub with friends. (Seriously, go ahead once and speak a correctly constructed grammatical sentence—“With whom are you going to the movies tonight?” Then see what happens.)

Depending on the audience for which you are writing, it may be all right to write a little more conversationally. If you’re a small business, you may not want to construct a brand that sounds too lofty or heady for your clientele. Perhaps you will let a few prepositions dangle, but that’s just because of the way people talk. You want to engage at the level of the people to which you’re catering, and maybe sounding too proper will drive them away.

Take our promotional copy. How could we rewrite that anyway?

They have a keen affinity for words, style, and grammar — the knowledge of which you don’t require.”

“They have a keen affinity for words, style, and grammar — so you don’t have to have a keen affinity for words, style, and grammar.”

You get the idea.

In short, sometimes, bending the rules just works, and only if you get what they’re trying to accomplish in the first place.