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Using Grammar

Q.What is a preposition?
A. A preposition is a word, or group of words, that goes before a noun to show some relationship.

For example: He hit the ball over the fence or She arrived by car, where over and by are both prepositions.

If that doesn't make sense, don't worry about it too much - see the next question.

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Q.Can I end a sentence with a preposition?
A. Yes, you can end a sentence with a preposition.

Way back when, people were taught a thing called 'prescriptive' grammar, which basically had the English language twisting itself in knots to try and emulate Latin grammar.

Not ending a sentence with a preposition was one of the rules of prescriptive grammar.

For example: This is the sort of English up with which I will not put is prescriptive grammar - but you have to read the sentence two or three times before it makes sense.

(Thanks to Winston Churchill for this example - he was being sarcastic with an editor who had tried to enforce this particular rule.)

The rule that you can't end a sentence with a preposition fell by the wayside a long time ago. It's not wrong to use it, you just don't have to.

Be careful when you do use the rule, though, it can sometimes sound pretentious and patronising (read Churchill's example again).

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Q.What is a 'split' infinitive?
A. An infinitive is the unconjugated form of a verb. That is, the word to followed by the base form of a verb.

For example: where going is the verb, to go is the infinitive. To 'split' an infinitive means to separate the two words by another word (e.g. to boldly go).

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Q.Can I split an infinitive?
A. Yes, you can split an infinitive.

Back in the days when people were still trying to make the English language conform to Latin grammar (see Can I end a sentence with a preposition?), a rule was made that you couldn't split an infinitive.

The reason for this was that, in Latin, all infinitives were a single word and couldn't be split - so you couldn't do it in English either, even though you had two words.

The rule doesn't have much support these days, even in formal writing, and certainly not for the more informal style of the Web.

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Q.What is a conjunction?
A. A conjunction is a word that joins sentences, clauses, phrases, or words together (e.g. and, but, so, or, nor, for, yet).

For example: She washed the car and he washed the dog, where and is the conjunction.

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Q.Can I start a sentence with a conjunction?
A. Yes, you can start a sentence with a conjunction.

Writers (including Shakespeare) have begun sentences with conjunctions since the tenth century. The old rule that you couldn't begin a sentence with a conjunction hasn't really been enforced for a very long time in informal writing.

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