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

Source

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.

A Definition

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

  • With
  • At
  • By
  • To
  • In
  • For
  • From
  • Of
  • On

  • since
  • through
  • throughout
  • toward
  • under
  • until
  • up
  • upon
  • with
  • without
  • 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

Other Prepositions

  • above
  • across
  • after
  • against
  • among
  • at
  • before
  • behind
  • below
  • beneath
  • beside
  • between
  • beyond
  • by
  • down
  • during
  • except
  • inside
  • into
  • like
  • near
  • off
  • out
  • outside
  • over

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.

For example:

  • 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.

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

Examples:

  • 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".

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What do you think? 30 comments

OMGirdle profile image

OMGirdle 3 years ago from United States

Thank you for this information. I am always second guessing the "presentation" in my writing. I'm bookmarking this hub for future reference. Voted up!


Barbara 3 years ago

Dear Robin

According to Harper's English Grammar by John P. Opdyke, Ph.D., it is acceptable and sometimes necessary to use a preposition at the end of a sentence. There are also many other grammar books which say the same thing.

Also, "in regard to" is incorrect. The correct phrase is "with regard to" (Webster's New World English Grammar Handbook by Loberger Ph.D. and Shoup). For good writing style, it is better to simply say "regarding".


sgallant 4 years ago

Written - I would use "upon my word"

Spoken - I would use "by my word"

Upon is too formal for spoken English and I think this is where we get confused. Speaking is a bit less formal than writing and speaking with different groups requires different levels of speech. Correcting all the people all the time gets annoying, but a kind reminder of the correction every now and then is okay.


kalyan jadhav 4 years ago

dear sir, i read many grammar books but i am unable to use preposition according to their situation. please guide me how to practice it. thank you.


arijit 4 years ago

which is correct?

________my word he is a getleman. (in / by / upon )


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 4 years ago from Canada

okay finally a hub which makes sense to my little mind. I do love the list of prepositions, so I am grateful for this reminder. Many thanks.


doinglifewithgod 4 years ago

Awesome, wish I had your Hub when I was homeschooling my kids.


KY Highlander 4 years ago

I have never seen the rule in print in a grammar text. So my rule of thumb is, "A preposition is a part of speech one should not end a sentence with."


htodd profile image

htodd 4 years ago from United States

Great hub ,Nice write up!


Sunny 4 years ago

Thank you for this information, but It's still very hard for me to use prposition correctly.I'm not a native speaker. How can I know if it's correct or wrong? Especially when I have to take the test.I always fail on this part. I just need an obvious information. How can I know if this sentence needs "of" or "with" ? Anybody knows it?


Coral 5 years ago

Hi. I have a question on how to use the "team". Is this sentence correct? "Their team of photographers captures weddings, sports and other events."


Support Med. profile image

Support Med. 5 years ago from Michigan

Great lesson here and very useful. voted/rated


nikkiraeink profile image

nikkiraeink 5 years ago from So. Cal.

Thank you for the clarification. I look forward to reading more of your hubs. Even with a degree in English, I still struggle with grammar - a much needed skill for writing.


AJ 5 years ago

In your example of the use of "up" as a preposition with drew, the information is incorrect. Up, as used in the example, is part of the phrasal verb and is not a preposition.


Melody 5 years ago

Can you point me to some sources of the history of the preposition rule? What did John Dryden write about prepositions? Also, who helped develop the rule in the 18 century?


HeyaMovieGeek profile image

HeyaMovieGeek 6 years ago from Virginia

Thanks! The "where is blank at" annoys the heck out of me...

And sometimes breaking grammar rules is good for style, like how I'm starting this sentence with "and."

(Sorry about the crappy grammar in this comment, by the way. It's 4 in the morning and I'm tired.)


Steve 6 years ago

I would much rather sound snooty than like an uneducated dolt. I watch my use of prepositions and frequently correct strangers in public when I hear them improperly used. I cringe when someone says "Where are you at?" The masses don't care but in an interview for employment it speaks volumes.


Al 8 years ago

Hi Robin. English is my second language. Proper use of the most common prepositions has been my biggest 'grammatical error" - I can spot my mistake if I have enough time to proofread my work... however, when documenting at work, there's no time to do a draft or postpone notes until the next day or so because new documentation write-ups are part of my job everyday... Any suggestion for books to read or reference book to have in handy? Thanks.


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Madeline. Thanks for the comment. In your first two examples you would say, "In 1998..." or "In February...." However, if it were a specific date you would use "on"; e.g., "On February 14, 1998..." or "On Monday...." Any time that is non-specific you use the work "in". As for your second example, "in" would be used for both sentences. "In my early years of high school..." and "In the upcoming days..." Prepositions are hard words for second language learners (and some first language learners), but you'll get it! Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with!

Here are the definitions from Merriam-Webster:

In: http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/in

On: http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/on


Madeline 9 years ago

English is not my first language (Spanish is) and I think these pages are great. Now I need help. I have a problem with in and on. I know how to use them when I talk about "in the drawer", "in the refrigerator" or "on the table", etc. However, there are many instances where I need to use in or on and I am not sure which one to use. For example, in or on 1998, in or on February, in or on my early years of high school, in or on the upcoming days, and many more instances. Any help will be greatly appreciated.


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

I believe the correct construction is, "John Doe of Super Pretzel....". However, you would say, "I am with Super Pretzel," not "I am of Super Pretzel." Hope this helps. ;)


Need_Help 9 years ago

I don't know when to us "of" or "with" when refering to someone who works at a particular company. What is the correct way to phrase the following sentence:

John Doe with SuperPretzel submitted a delicious pretzel recipe.

-OR-

John Doe of SuperPretzel submitted a delicious pretzel recipe.


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, Stuart J. As long as your preposition has an object, it is fine to end with it. The sentence, which I hear more often than I'd like to admit, "Where you at?" is obviously incorrect. My ear would tell me that this is not right, unfortunately many other ears hear it as correct.

As for schooling, I can't remember the texts that we used. I do remember this being a rule though. I'm not sure how it is taught today in schools.

George, what did you teach?


StuartJ profile image

StuartJ 9 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

I'm surprised that you say most people were taught not to end a sentence with a preposition. Perhaps in America. Fowler in his very influential book "Modern English Usage", savaged this 'rule' long ago.

I'd be interested if anyone could find any authority -- any top flight grammar book that supports this idea. Ending sentences with prepostions is done at all levels.

Again it is an attempt to apply a rule of Latin to English, but it doesn't really apply in English.

Sir Ernest Gowers in Complete Plain Words writes:

"Do not hesitate to end a sentence with a preposition if your ear tells you that that is where the preposition goes best."

The current record for prepositions at the end is held by an American poet Morris Bishop:

I lately lost a preposition

It hid, I thought, beneath my chair

And angrily I cried, "Perdition!

Up from out of in under there."

Correctness is my vade mecum,

And straggling phrases I abhor,

And yet I wondered, "What should he come

Up from out of in under for?"


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, Wajay! You caught a typo! Precede means to come before and proceed means to move forward, so prepositions precede a noun or pronoun. Thanks for the catch! Here's my hub on lie vs. lay: http://hubpages.com/literature/Grammar_Mishaps__Li...


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

I agree, George. I was trying to give an example of a sentence with a preposition. I believe both are grammatically correct, but yours is better. Thanks!


wajay_47 9 years ago

Does a preposition "procede" or precede a noun or pronoun? Also, how about a hub explaining the uses of "lie" and "lay". I often hear that confused. Nice hub as usual.


Guest 9 years ago

Thanks, this is great


Robin profile image

Robin 9 years ago from San Francisco Author

It's a bit of a controversial topic, at least as much as grammar can be controversial. ;) It will be interesting to see what other readers think! ;


livelonger profile image

livelonger 9 years ago from San Francisco

This is fantastic--thanks, Robin.

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