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5/23/13

Grammar Girl : Ending a Sentence With a Preposition :: Quick and Dirty Tips

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EndingaSentenceWithaPreposition
byMignonFogarty

OneofthemostfrequentquestionsImaskediswhetheritsacceptabletoendasentence withapreposition. Iknowmanyofyouweretaughtthatyoushouldntendasentencewithapreposition,but itsamyth.Infact,Iconsideritoneofthetoptengrammarmythsbecausemanypeople believeitstrue,butbecausenearlyallgrammariansdisagree,atleastinsomecases(1,2,3, 4,5,6,7,8). SobeforeIloseyou,let'sbackup.Whatisapreposition?

WhatIsaPreposition?
Aprepositionisawordthatcreatesarelationshipbetweenotherwords.It'sbeensaidthat prepositionsoftendealwithspaceandtime(1),whichalwaysmakesmethinkofStarTrek. Forexample,theprepositionsabove,by,andoverallsaysomethingaboutaposition inspacetheprepositionsbefore,after,andsinceallsaysomethingabouttime.

WhenCanaSentenceEndwithaPreposition?
Here'sanexampleofasentencethatcanendwithapreposition:Whatdidyoustepon?A keypointisthatthesentencedoesn'tworkifyouleaveoffthepreposition.Youcan'tsay, Whatdidyoustep?Youneedtosay,Whatdidyoustepon?tomakeagrammatical sentence. Icanhearsomeofyougnashingyourteethrightnow,whileyouthink,Whataboutsaying, 'Onwhatdidyoustep?'Butreally,haveyoueverheardanyonetalkthatway?I'veread long,contortedargumentsfromnotedgrammariansaboutwhyit'sOKtoendsentences withprepositionswhentheprepositionisn'textraneous(1),butthedrivingpointstillseems tobe,Nobodyintheirrightmindtalksthisway.Yes,youcouldsay,Onwhatdidyou step?butnotevengrammariansthinkyoushould.Itsoundspedantic.
I'vereadlongargumentsaboutwhyit'sOKtoendsentenceswithprepositionswhentheprepositionisn't extraneous,butthedrivingpointstillseemstobeNormalpeopledon'ttalkthatway.

WhenCan'tYouEndaSentencewithaPreposition?
But,youcan'talwaysendsentenceswithprepositions.Whenyoucouldleaveoffthe

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Grammar Girl : Ending a Sentence With a Preposition :: Quick and Dirty Tips

prepositionanditwouldn'tchangethemeaning,youshouldleaveitoff.Hereisacell phonecommercialthatgetsonmynerves. [Whereyouat?] Forthepurposesoftodaysdiscussion,letsignorethefactthattheyleftouttheverbare becauseIvedefinitelyheardpeopleask,Whereareyouat? TheproblemisthatWhereareyouat?doesn'tneedtheprepositionattheend.Ifyousay Whereareyou?itmeansthesamething.Sothe"at"isunnecessary.Youshouldleaveit off.

UnnecessaryPrepositions
Theproblemwithunnecessaryprepositionsdoesn'thappenjustattheendofsentences. Peopleoftenthrowextraneousprepositionsintothemiddleofsentences,andthey shouldn't(2).InsteadofsayingSquigglyjumpedoffofthedock,it'sbettertosay Squigglyjumpedoffthedock.Yousee?Youdon'tneedtosayoffofthedockoffthe docksaysthesamethingwithoutthepreposition. Anotherexampleisoutsideofwhenoutsidebyitselfwoulddojustfine.Youshould say,He'soutsidethedoor,not,He'soutsideofthedoor.

SentencesCanEndwithPrepositionsfromPhrasalVerbs
Sofar,myexamplesofprepositionsattheendofsentenceshaveallbeenquestions.Lest youthinktheyreaspecialcase,welllookatsomesentencesthatarentquestions. Englishhasatypeofverbcalledaphrasalverb.Theseareverbsmadeupofmultiple words,andoneisalwaysapreposition.Cheerup,runover,logon,andleaveoff areallexamplesofphrasalverbs,andoftensentencesthatusephrasalverbsendwitha preposition:
Iwishhewouldcheerup. Youshouldleaveitoff.

Thoseareperfectlyacceptablesentences.

OtherSentencesCanEndwithPrepositionsToo
ItsalsoOKtoendasentencewithaprepositionsometimesevenwhenyouarentusinga phrasalverb.Forexample,althoughyoucouldrewritethefollowingsentencestoavoid endingthemwithapreposition,youdontneedto.

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Grammar Girl : Ending a Sentence With a Preposition :: Quick and Dirty Tips

Shedisplayedthegoodhumorshesknownfor.(CouldberewrittenasShedisplayedthegoodhumor forwhichshesknown.) Iwanttoknowwherehecamefrom.(CouldberewrittenasIwanttoknowfromwherehecame.)

CoverLetterGrammar
Isaidyoudontneedtorewritethosesentences,butbecauseoftheprevalentmyththatits wrongtoendsentenceswithprepositions,therearetimeswhenyoushouldavoiddoingit eventhoughitisntwrong.Forexample,whenyourewritingacoverlettertoapotential employer,dontendasentencewithapreposition.Thepersonreadingthelettercouldsee itasanerror.Ialwaysrecommendfollowingthemostconservativegrammarrulesinjob applications.Idratherbehiredthanloseoutonanopportunitybecausemygrammarwas correctbutperceivedaswrong. Butonceyou'rehiredandyoureinapositiontohaveadiscussionaboutgrammar,dont beafraidtoendsentenceswithprepositionsaslongastheprepositionisntunnecessary. JustbereadytoshowyourbossagoodstyleguideorthisWebpageanddoyourpartto dispeloneofthetoptengrammarmyths.

RelatedArticles
PhrasalVerbs(verbsthatendwithprepositions) DoYouOveruse"Of"?(discussestheidiom"acoupleof") "TalkWith"Versus"TalkTo"(trickyprepositions) HowtoWriteaBetterResume

References
1. Huddleston,R.andPullman,G.K.AStudent'sIntroductiontoEnglishGrammar.Cambridge: CambridgeUniversityPress,2006,p.20,1378. 2. Strumpf,M.andDouglas,A.TheGrammarBible.NewYork:HenryHoltandCompany,2004,p.231, 217. 3. Thurman,S.TheOnlyGrammarBookYou'llEverNeed.Avon:AdamsMedia,2003,p.32. 4. Stilman,A.GrammaticallyCorrect.Cincinnati:Writer'sDigestBooks,2004,p.264. 5. OConnor,P.TheLivingDead:LetBygoneRulesBeGoneGrammarphobia.com, http://www.grammarphobia.com/grammar.html(accessedMarch29,2011). 6. Lutz,G.andStevenson,D.GrammarDeskReference.Cincinnati:Writer'sDigestBooks,2005,p.41. 7. Garner,B.GarnersModernAmericanUsage.OxfordUniversityPress,2009,p.654. 8. Wilson,K.G.TheColumbiaGuidetoStandardAmericanEnglish.NewYork:ColumbiaUniversity Press,1993,p.341.

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Grammar Girl : Ending a Sentence With a Preposition :: Quick and Dirty Tips

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