preposition_blog

In one of our recent posts, we talked about a grammar myth that many of us learned in elementary school: it’s incorrect to start a sentence with a conjunction (e.g., “and,” “but,” or “so”). Today we’re going to tackle another myth: it’s incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition (i.e., a word like “for,” “with,” or “at”).

When you were in elementary school or high school, you may have been taught that it’s incorrect to place a preposition at the end of a sentence. That is, your teacher may have told you that it’s incorrect to write a sentence like this:

“I don’t have anything to write with.”

Well, we have something to tell you: this “rule” isn’t actually true. There’s nothing grammatically wrong with placing a preposition at the end of a sentence. This means that the following sentences are all perfectly acceptable from a grammatical standpoint:

“Who are we waiting for?”

“That’s something I simply can’t agree with.”

“What time is the meeting at?”

In our post on starting sentences with a conjunction, we gave you a word of caution: we noted that although it’s grammatically kosher to start a sentence with a conjunction, we recommend against it because many people think it’s incorrect to write this way. In this case, however, we encourage you to end sentences with prepositions when it seems right to do so. We’re taking this stance for two different reasons:

First, when you try to force a sentence to not end with a preposition, it can end up sounding really awkward. A famous quote by Winston Churchill does an excellent job at illustrating this: “ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” This way of wording the sentence may sound fancier or more impressive than if we placed the preposition at the end of the sentence (i.e., “ending a sentence with a preposition is something I will not put up with”). In reality, though, it makes the sentence wordy, stiff, and even a bit hard to read. Of course, not every sentence will sound like this if you try to place a preposition in the middle of the sentence instead of at the end. In these cases, go ahead and move that preposition to the middle. However, if you find yourself even questioning whether the sentence would sound better if you left the preposition at the end, you’re probably better off keeping the sentence the way it is.

Second, whereas most people still think it’s incorrect to start a sentence with a conjunction, there aren’t as many people clinging to the myth that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. Just think about how much more common it is to see sentences in news articles, books, and blog posts that end with a preposition than it is to see sentences that start with a conjunction. Of course, there are people out there who will think that you don’t know how to write if you end a sentence with “for” or “with.” There’s no point, though, in sacrificing clarity and making your sentences sound awkward for all of your other readers just to please these people. Unlike what we said about starting sentences with a conjunction, in this case, you do have something to lose by writing based on your readers’ incorrect beliefs about grammar.

Are you ready to improve your writing by placing prepositions where they fit best in a sentence? If not, take baby steps. Where it makes sense to do so, start by leaving prepositions at the ends of sentences when writing emails, informal internal documents, and early drafts. Once you become comfortable with the approach and notice that most people don’t have an issue with it, you can start writing this way in formal documents and final drafts.

Have any lingering questions about ending sentences with a preposition? Leave us a note in our comments section below and we’ll get in touch. Your question may even inspire one of our upcoming posts!

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Can you end a sentence with a preposition?
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2 thoughts on “Can you end a sentence with a preposition?

  • March 8, 2020 at 1:35 pm
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    Great post! However, I noted one small detail….

    It’s not the preposition at the end of the question that one should object to (to which one should object?!), but rather the subjective form (“Who”) being used versus the objective form (“Whom”) in this sentence: “Who are we waiting for?”

    Shouldn’t it be one of these:
    “Whom are we waiting for?”
    Or: “For whom are we waiting?”
    Or maybe even: “We are waiting for whom?”

    Surely, one of the last 3 is preferable to the first… Right? (To answer this, try to “answer” the question “Whom/Who are we waiting for?” with “he” or “him.” We would say: “We are waiting for HIM,” and not: “We are waiting for HE.” Easy, right!?)

    Thus, I abjectly object to the SUBJECT form and would redirect to the OBJECT form, to which I would not OBJECT! (All puns intended!) Have a great day!

    Reply
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