Aug. 31st, 2008

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[ profile] gerald_duck's bit of linguistic peeving reminds me that I meant to post about something very odd that I came across recently.

In the course of writing a big proposal last week I got a comment back from one of my colleagues that the phrase

where the jet first brightens appreciably

was wrong because "the adverb shouldn't be at the end of the sentence". When I called him on this, it turns out that this was advice from his girlfriend, with a Harvard PhD in "English" (not specified what variety!).

Now it seems to me that this is obviously loopy. Obviously we could have rewritten the offending sentence

where the jet first appreciably brightens

but that looks less natural to me. And clearly the 'rule' can't possibly be a rule, in the sense that some adverbs have to go at the end of the sentence:

He's coming soon.
*Soon he's coming.
*He's soon coming.

I tried to argue this point with my colleague but clearly he didn't want to fight his girlfriend on my behalf. The sentence stayed how it was. But I'm puzzled: usually with something like this you can find a trace of it on the internet; for example, if you Google for 'less vs fewer' you can find both sides of the argument on the first page, and the same goes for split infinitives, prepositions at end, that vs which and the rest of the prescriptivist bugbears. Here, though, I can't find any evidence that even the most prescriptive of style guides has ever claimed anything about not putting adverbs at the end of sentences.

So my questions for y'all are: has anyone else come across this ever? Can it be traced back to a particular style guide? Is the US/UK difference at all significant here?


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