Questions on Prepositions


Question: (From a curious graduate): I remember back in the dark ages it was correct to say "John graduated from N.C. State." Now I find that "John graduated N.C. State" is often used. Is this correct?

Answer: This kind of usage often varies by region. I'm from Ohio, and my instincts agree with yours. In Ohio, graduate is an intransitive verb, used with a prepositional phrase. Thus, I would say, "John graduated from N.C. State."

I'm not sure, however, that the transitive ("John graduated N.C. State.") is common usage even in North Carolina. I just checked with a colleague who hails from Buies Creek. She too would say, "John graduated from N.C. State."

These kinds of quibbles are not so much errors as they are distractions. The proper reaction is bemused anthropological interest. Such an intellectual stance is appropriate for all university graduates, whether they graduated N.C. State or from N.C. St ate.


Question (From an N.C. state undergraduate): When using through in a title, is it capitalized?

Answer: Through is a preposition. It's a long preposition, but it's a preposition nonetheless. Lowercase it in a title unless it is the first or last word. If it is the first or last word, capitalize it.


Question (From an N.C. State faculty member): What's the latest on prepositions at the end of sentences? Some of the TAs I'm working with insist on "never." My position is that rules of that kind are unrhetorical (like "never" on the passive) an d each situation has to be judged on its own. I know Winston Churchill's response to the rule, but what do copyeditors think?

Answer: Let me start by saying that I think you're right to take the rhetorical approach.

Since you asked about copyeditors' consensus, however, I think I'll decline to answer minutely, and instead take the opportunity to hawk the Online Writing Lab.

One of the links from the OWL website is to a frequently-asked-questions list from a copyeditors' listserve. Of the frequently asked questions addressed, one is about concluding prepositions. Twenty respondents say that these are permissible (examples are given); fifteen say that they are sometimes permissible; only two proscribe them.


Question (From the Internet): Does one appear on his/her own behalf or in his/her own behalf?

Answer: On behalf of the Grammar Hotline, I will tell you that I cannot remember ever seeing the phrase "in his own behalf." The usage section of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, however, leads me to believe that I may have been b lind. It notes that

A body of opinion favors in with the "interest, benefit" sense of behalf and on with the "support, defense" sense. This distinction has been observed by some writers but overall has never had a sound basis in actual usage. In current British use, "on behalf (of)" has replaced "in behalf (of)." Both are still used in American English, but the distinction is frequently not observed.

Application of this rule would favor an "on his own behalf" treatment, since this phrase matches the "as the agent, representative, or spokesman for" meaning.

For a full treatment of this issue, I recommend Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. This resource gives the issue a full page of treatment, but concludes that "there was never a distinction in meaning based on the choice of prepositio n."

The Grammar Hotline ordinarily adores this kind of quibble, but is forced to admit that strict adherence to this distinction is likely to drive the careful writer mad while not adding one scintilla to the understanding of the reader.


Question (From an N.C. State undergraduate): My English 112H professor says that some people believe it is correct to spell throughout as one word but he says he does not and only accepts through out as two separate words. Which wa y is correct or most widely accepted?

Answer: I have never seen throughout spelled as two words, and the dictionary lists its use as a single word as dating from the thirteenth century.

There are some words that do vary in this way, however. In particular, many writers make a distinction between awhile used as an adverb, and a while used as a noun phrase. This distinction is not always observed, and it's easy to make a c ase for its not being particularly important to meaning. Those who insist on making the distinction are particularly apt to be sticklers about not using awhile after a preposition.

Check your notes. I wouldn't go so far as to guarantee every grammar claim of every one of my colleagues, but in this case, I suspect that something may be amiss in the way you transcribed this quibble.


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