Ending a Sentence With a Preposition

Posted: March 21st, 2014, 6:19 pm   By: maggie.walter

“Bork, you’re a federal agent. You represent the United States’ government. Never end a sentence with a preposition.”—the creepy dude from “Unsolved Mysteries” taking a moonlighting gig in “Beavis and Butthead Do America”

This week, we explain when it’s perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition.

Since our snot-encrusted fingers first picked up a pencil in school, we’ve all been told, “Never end a sentence with a preposition.” Words like “up,” “to,” “over,” and the like must never—gasp!—ever find themselves preceding a period. That’s been the official party line for years.

How Did This Start?

Long story short: Some 17th-century literary panjandrums wanted to make English conform to Latin, which does not permit ending sentences in prepositions (such prepositions are called “stranded” or “deferred”). Grammarians and teachers, two groups of people who love themselves some rules, latched on to this diktat—and that was that.

However, English is not Latin, so we’re not stuck with the same rules. In fact, most modern literary minds believe it’s OK to end a sentence in a preposition. As an editor from the “Associated Press Stylebook” (the official style guide for Write.com) has explained, “It’s something we’ll put up with.”

Furthermore, some phrasal verbs even require a preposition, which can end up finishing a sentence: “bring along,” “turn off,” etc. In cases like these, removing the preposition changes or destroys the meaning of the verb. Go ahead and write, “That Super Bowl ad with Bar Refaeli made me want to throw up.” It doesn’t make sense to say, “That ad made me want to throw.”

Free at Last?

Of course, this doesn’t give us carte blanche to create any monstrosity of a sentence and slap a preposition at the end. Writers must strike a balance between stranded prepositions and coming across like a pedant. Be polished, but don’t take it too far. There’s no need for, “From where do brave artistic pioneers come?” Just go with, “Where do artistic pioneers come from?”

However, sometimes prepositions are unnecessary or redundant. Omit them in situations like these:

  • Where are you at?
  • Please go jump off of a bridge.

It’s a tough balance, but it’s one we’re stuck with.