June 4, 2012 | Review Period
Separation of Preposition and Pronoun
English has special powers that Italian and other languages do not.
In Italian, you can’t separate your prepositions and pronouns. As Daniela Gobetti, author of Italian Pronouns and Prepositions points out, in Italian you would say, “Per chi stai comprando quel regalo?” In English, you could say, “Who(m) are you buying that present for?”
There are a lot of people running around who would freak out about that second sentence. They would say, “No! You cannot put a preposition at the end of a sentence! It is an abomination against all that is grammatically holy in the world!”
A lot of those people, if you followed them around with a tape recorder, would put prepositions at the ends of their clauses and sentences all the time. This is a silly grammatical myth that bears little relationship to reality. In fact, one thing I specifically love about English is preposition mobility. Moving prepositions around gives me a sense of linguistic power and versatility.
On another subject: Gobetti says something I didn’t realize about the subtleties of costare, the Italian verb for “to cost. “Quanto fa?, she explains, “means that we purchased something and now we have to pay for it. It is mostly used in the singular.” So let’s say you have decided to buy oranges and they are handed to you by the clerk. You would ask, according to Gobetti, Quanto fa?
However, if you were looking at, say, a blouse, and you wanted to know the price, you would inquire, Quanto costa? If it were shoes, you would go plural: Quanto costano? So costare is the pre-shopping-commitment verb, is what I am gathering.
Another thing she points out: you cannot eliminate the relative pronoun in Italian. As an example she offers this question: “Ti è piaciuto il vino che abbiamo bevuto ieri sera?” Che, which means “that,” cannot be deleted.
In English it can. Did you like the wine that we drank last night? Or: Did you like the wine we drank last night?
Sometimes in English leaving a “that” out can create problems. I don’t think the following sentence rises to the level of a problem exactly, but I find it interesting: “Joan did not believe his claims were false.”
For a tiny moment there, as your gaze strikes the spot between the word “claims” and “were,” you could maybe think Joan did not believe his claims, when in fact the opposite is true. I’m not saying the “that”-less version is wrong, exactly, but in a “that”-optional language, the possibility of murkiness exists. So I would be inclined to preserve the “that” there.