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How to Fix Dangling Prepositions

Updated on July 29, 2016
Prepositions--don't leave them dangling!
Prepositions--don't leave them dangling!

Although speech is the language and language is alive, ever changing, good writing follows certain rules and has more permanency than speech.The written word can serve as a reference tool. A sentence might include one or more prepositions, words that take objects (nouns) to complete an idea.

If you've ever been disciplined by a parent, you may recall something similar to the following conversation.

"I told you to clean your room."

"Yes, but--"

"But nothing! Now go do it."

Your mother was completing the preposition "but" with the noun "nothing."

"But" and other prepositions at the end of a sentence beg completion. They leave the reader hanging and asking who?, what?, where?, when? or why?

Simple Prepositions

A-L
N-R
S-W
at
near
save
but
of
since
by
off
through
down
on
till
for
out
to
from
over
up
in
past
with
like
round
~~~
Prepositions with one syllable or few letters are the most common. "Down," "round," and "till" can serve different sentence functions, depending on their use.

Examples of Dangling Prepositions

Here are two examples of sentences ending in a dangling preposition that appeared in a professional article, along with examples of how the sentences might be corrected. In each correction, the simplest expression appears followed by one that more closely uses the words of the original.


Incorrect: Our reaction to failure is something we pay little attention to.

Acceptable Solutions:

We pay little attention to our reaction to failure.

Our reaction to failure is something to which we pay little attention.


Incorrect:

Find a confidant who has survived the same setback you are suffering through.

Acceptable Solutions:

Find a confidant who has survived the same setback as you.

Find a confidant who has survived the same setback as you are suffering.

Speech and the Vernacular

Informal speech uses prepositions frequently. In writing, most of these prepositions can be eliminated without harm to the meaning of the sentence. When writing dialog or giving a direct quote, however, prepositions and dangling prepositions remain.


Speech: I'm going clean up this mess.

Written: I'm going to clean this mess.

Written Quote: "I'm going to clean up this mess."


Speech: I have no idea where I'm going to.

Written: I have no idea where I'm going.

Written Quote: "I have no idea where I'm going to."


When a story, such as a personal account is being written, the author's vernacular helps to develop his or her unique style. If the vernacular is excessive, however, the reader may have a difficult time following the story. So, in creative writing, a little rule bending is essentially akin to poetic license. In article writing, the author will eliminate informal speech for clarity to appeal to the greatest number of readers.

Prepositions are like building blocks that add information to the sentence.
Prepositions are like building blocks that add information to the sentence.

Compound Prepositions

A-Am
Ar-Conc
Cons-O
R-W
aboard
around
considering
regarding
about
before
despite
throughout
above
behind
during
toward
across
below
except
under
after
beneath
excepting
underneath
against
beside
inside
until
along
besides
into
unto
alongside
between
onto
upon
amid
beyond
opposite
within
among
concerning
outside
without
Compound prepositions are two prepositions combined. I have an included those with adapted Latin prefixes in this list.

Prepositions That Begin Sentences

Many compound prepositions and their objects work well to begin a clause to start a sentence. Such construction can provide a transition for a new paragraph.


Examples of introductory clauses:

Before the turn of the century, women began to change their style of dress.

Except for an occasional breeze, the air was as still as stone.


"Before" and "except" are prepositions introducing the sentences. Don't leave them dangling!

Incorrect: Women began to change their style of dress in the century before.

Incorrect: The air was still as stone, an occasional breeze except.*

*Such construction might occur in a poem and be accepted as poetic license.


So, here you see that prepositions can begin a sentence, but should not end a sentence when writing an article for publication.

Phrases made of two or more words can function as prepositions.
Phrases made of two or more words can function as prepositions.

Phrasal Prepositions

A-D
E-I
N-U
according to
except for
near to
across from
from among
on account of
alongside of
from between
on behalf of
along with
from under
on top of
apart from
in addition to
onside of
as far as
in behalf of
out of
aside from
in front of
over to
away from
in place of
owing to
back of
in regard to
prior to
because of
inside of
subsequent to
by means of
in spite of
together with
down from
instead of
up to
Phrasal prepositions are the most complex type of preposition.

Ways to Fix a Dangling Preposition

  1. Delete the preposition if the meaning of the sentence doesn't change.
  2. Add a noun and any desired modifiers to serve as the preposition's object.
  3. Complete the preposition and move the words to where the meaning is clearer or at the beginning to work as a transition.
  4. Reword the sentence so no preposition is required.

A Final Word

After reading this subject, you are now more aware of what prepositions are and have seen a few examples of them in sentences. A preposition is completed by an object (noun or pronoun) and any modifiers to the noun. An object answers the question of who, what, when, where, or why.

When correcting a dangling preposition, you can sometimes just delete the preposition, add an object (perhaps with modifiers), add an object and move the preposition's phrase to somewhere else in the sentence, such as the beginning to serve as a transition, or reword the sentence so no preposition is required.

Omitting dangling prepositions from your article writing improves the quality of the piece and is easier for the reader to comprehend. ***

A Song to Help You Remember Prepositions

How much have you learned?


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Resource Credits

I constructed the preposition lists with the guidance of the following book.

Sebranek, Meyer, and Kemper; Write for College: A Student Handbook; Write Source (Houghton Mifflin), Wilmington, Massachusetts; 1997 ISBN 0-669-44402-2


The graphic images are my own work.

© 2013 Marie Flint

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    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      This was a very good Hub. I have read a few grammar books - since I d0 not remember much from school - but I still have not memorized everything about grammar. I just try to rephrase sentences and end them with nouns. You get voted up in my class. :-)

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank you, Examiner. I only hope this hub helps those who need to read it! --Blessings!

    • Chuck RitenouR profile image

      Chuck RitenouR 3 years ago from Front Royal, Virginia

      I love this.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Marie Flint

      I am sure that it will.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      A great hub and thank you for sharing Marie.

      Eddy.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      I find myself not caring about the improper usage of prepositions, because even reputable works seem to allow it. Reading your article motivates me to strive for the right. Thank you for underscoring the right usage; it also makes for better reading.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      The English language is rapidly eroding, Ms. Dora. My little efforts are an attempt to regain some hope for scholarly usage. So much on the internet, however, seems to be going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Thank you for commenting and attempting to follow proper usage. Blessings!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      I agree about the language. A phrase (rule) which I often hear is "You ended your sentence in a prepositon", or, "Do not end sentences in prepositions".

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Some skillful fixes, Marie. This reminds me of the story told on Winston Churchill of an editor who once rearranged one of his sentences to avoid ending with a preposition. Churchill replied “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” My retired English teacher friend told this but it has now been debunked. Anyhow, the point is well taken. I sometimes (but rarely) end a sentence with a preposition just to avoid this type of pedantry.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      That's a funny line, MizBejabbers! Speech and writing are two separate things. One gets away with a lot more in speech, but, then communication is much more than words.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Great refresher course. I was a straight A English student but time and shortcuts make one sloppy. I go back and catch many things like these and recognize it taking a fresh look at it but I am sure much I miss much! Thanks for sharing. Important stuff!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank you, Jackie. I'm glad you found this hub useful. I hope those who didn't have straight A's take the time to read it and find it helpful as well.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      What really gets me is when people use 'but' and 'and' to start a sentence. They are conjunctions and therefore should be used to join two sentences. It's done in speech but shouldn't be done in writing (unless in reported speech of course).

      Having a sound basis of grammatical English is necessary for good writing; prepositions are some of the most difficult words to use correctly, especially for those where English is a second language.

      A useful hub.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Annart, sometimes I'm guilty of starting a sentence with a conjunction. This practice seems to be fairly common in informal writing, but certainly has no place in polished article writing.

      Another practice which rather irks me are misplaced gerund modifiers. I see a lot of these and am thinking about doing a hub on that also.

      Yes, English is a rather complicated language compared to others. I think that especially in America, the language is a hodge-podge of so many other languages.

      Thank you for visiting and commenting. --Blessings!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Yes it's interesting that there are words in America which either don't exist here or that have totally different meanings - can be embarrassing! I suppose the hodge-podge of an English that's already made up of words from so many invaders becomes even more so when the languages of many American citizens are added.

      You are so right about those gerund modifiers! Look forward to reading your hub on that.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      What about using "Yes. No." or "Yeah. No." in the same sentence. I was never able to figure that one out!?

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Hi, Examiner, and how about those double negatives? "I ain't got nothin'." We Americans are a colorful lot!

      I have always believed that education helps bring us together. Kindness and compassion, however, are the keys to true happiness, whatever one's language may be. --Blessings

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Marie Flint,

      I, too, hate those 'double negatives'. That is one reason that I stopped using contractions - to make sure that I did not do use them. It helps me a lot.

      Kevin

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      One I always had to argue with was, "I couldn't care less." Double negative? If I say I could care less I would be lying because I couldn't. lol

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Your right, Jackie, that's a good example. "Less" is a degree and not total negation. So, what the speaker is saying is at whatever level of caring he or she sees himself/herself, the caring could or couldn't be less. Fun stuff, huh? ***

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Jackie,

      From my point it is hard to tell whether it is a double negative, but I would say that it is a 'contradiction'. An opposite of itself - "I couldn't" and "care less".

      What do you say Marie?

      Kevin

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Except every teacher it came up with claimed I was wrong and that it was a double negative when I knew better! In my day you did not argue much with teachers, which is probably just as well. lol

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Jackie and Examiner, I guess we've found one of our pet peeves with language. I've used that phrase, "I couldn't care less" myself with the intended meaning that I didn't care at all. It's certainly not the best English because less implies a comparison. Less than what? The implied answer is "less than I care right now." So, the phrase, "I couldn't care less" means I am incapable of caring any less than right now because I don't care at all! (Anyone ready for reviving ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS? Ah, logic!) Bless you both.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      I found the comments on double negatives interesting. When I first started as a legal editor, I was startled to find that double negatives were used in legal writing for emphasis. I wish I could think of an example, but I don't have a law book handy. Also many sentences were written with the negative, "No person shall ...." We are trying to write now to the positive, "A person shall not...."

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      In math, a double negative in multiplication and division equals a positive. That gets translated over into language, and that's what makes the double negatives confusing, because the speaker usually means the opposite (negative not positive).

    • Evan Smiley profile image

      Evan Smiley 3 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Have you ever seen the movie With Honors? It's so funny! There is a scene and the boy says, "Which door do I leave from?" To which the professor says, "At Harvard, we don't end our sentences with prepositions," and his witty reply is "Okay. Which door do I leave from, asshole?" I know it is still incorrect, but it was still funny to me and this reminded me of it!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      That IS silly, Evan. As I mentioned in my hub, normally speech isn't corrected in direct quotation. Was that the one with Robin Williams studying to become a doctor? If not, it sounds similar.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 3 years ago from USA

      I'm hoping that grammar will get easier the more I study it. I will probably need to refer back to this hub again in the future.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I think I enjoyed grammar because I have an analytical mind. I like to take sentences apart mentally to see how the different words are functioning in context. There's a lot to talk about with regards to proofreading, so I hope to do more hubs in the future--one topic at a time.

    • LadyTreana profile image

      Theresa M. Odom-Surgick 2 years ago from Albany, New York

      Thank you! Very helpful information that I'd forgotten.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      You're welcome, Lady Treana. As you may have noticed, I was an English major at college.

      Blessings!

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