Proper Use of Prepositions: Grammar Guide
Prepositions: Is it appropriate to use them at the end of a sentence?
I recently received an email asking if it is acceptable nowadays to use a preposition at the end of a sentence. Fellow Hubster wrote, "I know it's been 'against the rules', but following the rules often makes the sentence sound old-fashioned or overly formal."
Let's start of with some history, a definition, then we'll get to the question.
The Culprit: John Dryden
A bit of history
In the 17th-century, a poet named John Dryden coined the rule that prepositions should not be used at the end of a sentence. In the 18th-century, this doctrine became more refined; Now most students are taught this rule to not use a preposition at the end of a sentence. In some cases, the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence is needed and writers throughout history have broken this grammar rule.
The story is told that an editor once tried to reword a statement of Winston Churchill's because it ended with a preposition. Churchill wrote to the newspaper with this reply, "This is the sort of English up with which I cannot put.
Preposition: a word that precedes a pronoun or noun and links the rest of a sentence; Prepositions are always paired with a pronoun or noun, also called an object of the preposition.
Most common prepositions
- out of
- according to
- because of
- by way of
- in addition to
- in front of
- in place of
- in regard to
- in spite of
- instead of
- on account of
Now to the question.....
Are prepositions at the end of a sentence grammatically correct?
The easiest way to know if your sentence is grammatically correct is to reword the sentence with all of the same words; if it makes sense then your sentence is fine. If you can't reword the sentence, then your preposition is probably not referring to an object. In writing I prefer to reword the sentence so that it doesn't end in a preposition. This was how I was taught in school, and I just think it sounds better without an ending preposition. However, in spoken conversation the rewording may sound formal and may come off as a bit pompous. One final note, most people were taught not to end a sentence in a preposition; if you use a preposition at the end of your sentence, even if it is referring to an object earlier in the sentence, your audience may think you are incorrect.
- Where is the dog at? UNGRAMMATICAL This cannot be rephrased to use the word "at" in the sentence. "At" does not have an object it is describing. The correct way to say this sentence, "Where is the dog," or "My dog is where"?
- Which team are you on? GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT "On" is the preposition in this sentence. This sentence can be reworded, "On which team are you?" "On" is modifying the object "team". Thus, it is grammatically correct; when writing, I prefer and would advise the usage in the second sentence without the preposition at the end. When speaking, the later sounds a bit formal. You decide; I believe they are both grammatically correct.
- What do you need my necklace for? GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT "For" is the preposition. The sentence can be reworded, "For what do you need my necklace?" "For" is modifying the object "necklace". Thus, it is grammatically correct. Again, you decide which sentence you prefer.
- Preposition Quiz!
Take this quiz to see if you can spot the preposition!
Prepositions vs. Adverbs
This is where it can get a bit tricky. Prepositions can sometimes act as adverbs. Look for these signs: prepositions require an object and adverbs do not. Prepositions are always in a phrase and usually begin the phrase. (A phrase is a group of words that usually don't contain a noun or verb. It is not a sentence.)
Adverbs answer: WHEN, WHERE, HOW, and TO WHAT DEGREE about the verb
Prepositions answer: WHAT
- James drew up a new design. "Up" is the preposition linking James and the new design. The prepositional phrase is "up a new design" and the object is "new design".
- James looked up. "Up" is an adverb here describing the verb "looked".
- Prepositions vs. Adverbs Quiz
Take this quiz to see if you understand the difference between prepositions and adverbs!
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