Prepositions

I’d like to address the popular and false notion that it’s incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition. 

But first, let’s remind ourselves what a preposition is.

The preposition

A preposition is a word that describes the relationship between a noun and another word in the sentence. Examples include after, beforebetweenamonginoutwith and without. (And some words, like to and if, can function as prepositions and as other forms of speech, depending on how they’re used.)

There are 70 or so prepositions in the English language. Despite what my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Blanchfield, said, it’s not necessary to memorize all 70. You’re probably better off learning to recognize them in sentences. Here are some example sentences with the prepositions bolded:

Irving arrived after dinner.
Please place the bananas in the banana hammock before your father gets home.
Despite her initial trepidation, Bonita shared her marbles with Barney.

At the end of a sentence

Another thing Mrs. Blanchfield preached was the wickedness of ending a sentence with a preposition, something all of us have probably heard at some point. This “rule” is a remnant of Latin grammar. Some 17th-century English authorities decided, for no particular reason, that certain Latin rules should apply to English. However, for as long as English teachers have been clinging to this false rule, most professional writers and editors have been ignoring it. 

Today, virtually all dictionaries and style guides say there’s nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition.

Here are a few examples of English sentences that end with prepositions and are perfectly correct and natural. To illustrate the silliness of this false rule, each sentence is followed by its awkward counterpart with repositioned prepositions:

Joni just wants someone who is easy to talk to.
Joni just wants someone to whom it is easy to talk.

Henry believes certain things are worth fighting for.
Henry believes there are certain things for which fighting is worth.

Where are you from?
From where are you?

There’s an old quotation on this topic often attributed to Winston Churchill. There are various version of the quotation, as well as reports that Churchill never really said it. Anyway, as the story goes, someone inserted a note in a manuscript saying it’s wrong to end a sentence in a preposition. Churchill (or someone) replied to the note with the following: “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”

Here’s the Oxford American Dictionary’s less sarcastic stance: “In standard English the placing of a preposition at the end of a sentence is widely accepted, provided the use sounds natural and the meaning is clear.” This comes from Merriam-Webster: “Is it all right to end a sentence with a preposition? The answer is yes, even though many people cherish the notion that it is not.”

Questions? Objections? Leave a comment or email dave@thegrammargeek.com.

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