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From Bytes, Sunday, September 25, 2011


There is an oft quoted dictum of grammar that a preposition should not be used to finish a sentence on. That's what I am writing this for. It's an interesting story and worth reading about.

There is also a story that Sir Winston Churchill was once taken to task by a reporter for saying “This is the sort of nonsense I will not put up with.” When the reporter asked how it was that Sir Winston, one of the greatest speakers and writers in the English language, would finish on a proposition, he supposedly responded “Very well then, this is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.”

Although there are numerous sites that credit that saying to Churchill, no one has ever been able to source where and when he is supposed to have said it.

I mention all of this because of an item in last Saturday’s Column 8 of the Sydney Morning Herald:

''Overheard at the Harold Park Hotel tonight, and luckily I did not have to adjudicate,'' writes William Ryan, publican thereof:

Local: ''Tell me, mate, where you are from?''
Pedant: ''I hail from a part of the world where we do not end a sentence with a preposition.''
Local: ''Sorry. Where you are from, dickhead?''



There are those who maintain that a preposition is okay to finish on.

A selection of comments:

From Merriam-Webster:

Ending a sentence with a preposition (such as with, of, and to) is permissible in the English language. It seems that the idea that this should be avoided originated with writers Joshua Poole and John Dryden, who were trying to align the language with Latin, but there is no reason to suggest ending a sentence with a preposition is wrong. Nonetheless, the idea that it is a rule is still held by many.


From Grammar.Your Dictionary:

If you’ve ever heard that you can’t end a sentence with a preposition, you’re not alone. Ending a sentence with a preposition has long been considered grammatically incorrect. However, while it’s still frowned upon by traditional readers, it’s not technically an error. Learn when ending a sentence with a preposition is okay — and how to fix those sentences when it’s not okay.

Is It Okay to End a Sentence With a Preposition?

So, can you end a sentence with a preposition? The answer is: sometimes. At one time, schoolchildren were taught that a sentence should never end with a preposition. However, this is a rule from Latin grammar that was applied to English. Take a look at these examples of times when you can end a sentence with a preposition.

Casual or Informal Writing

It’s most acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition in casual or informal writing. This phrasing is more conversational, and therefore more appropriate in this setting, especially in questions. For example:

What are you sitting on?
I don’t know what I’m hungry for.
This is the movie I told you about!
Where are you from?
Who is he going out with?

It's perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition if the alternative would create confusion or sound unnatural. “What are you sitting on?” and “This is the movie I told you about!” sounds much more natural than “On what are you sitting?” or “This is the movie about which I told you!”

Idioms or Colloquialisms

Several English idioms and colloquial expressions end in prepositions. When you put the expressions at the end of a sentence, the sentence therefore ends in a preposition. For example:

What’d you do that for?
Let your sister come along.
Thanks for stopping by!
The decorations are all set up.
Tucker needs to calm down.

You can rewrite these sentences to avoid ending in prepositions (“Let your sister come along” becomes “Let your sister come with you”). But generally, this use is acceptable.

When Should You Move the Preposition?

While informal writing doesn’t require you to move the preposition away from the end of the sentence, it may be best to do so in formal writing. Phrases that sound natural in a conversation may feel overly familiar or awkward in a formal essay, article or conversation. Here are some guidelines for changing sentences in formal writing.

Dangling Prepositions

Prepositions form relationships between words (the object of the preposition) and other words in a sentence. They can show connections of location, time or ideas. Examples of prepositions at work include:

The remote is behind the couch.
Tina can’t decide between soda or juice.
I left my glasses at the movies.
Let’s go home after dinner.

These prepositions all fall within the sentence, not at the end. But sometimes, prepositions find themselves at the end of a sentence. This is known as a dangling preposition (or a hanging preposition). Here are some examples of sentences that end with prepositions.

What should I put the cookies in?
You need to decide which friend you’re going with.
Josephine left the radio on.
Who is this gift for?

Strict grammarians may cringe at these sentences, but ending a preposition is a question of style, not proper grammar. There are specific instances in which you can end a sentence with a preposition in modern writing, and other contexts in which you should avoid these dangling prepositions.


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