Busting Grammar Myths: Prepositions at the End of a Sentence

Have you been yelled at for ending a sentence with a preposition? Or maybe you’ve been told more politely? It’s not just you. I’ve been told the same thing.

But guess what?

You were told wrong.

So then, what’s the deal with prepositions at the end of sentences?

It’s a style rule

Let’s cut to the chase: It is 100% grammatically okay to end a sentence with a preposition.

However, stylistically, you might want to consider your choice. The last word in a sentence receives emphasis, so if you end a sentence with a preposition, you are emphasizing a word that doesn’t carry a whole lot of meaning.

Instead, the sentence might be punchier if you end it with a noun, or an adjective, or an adverb—a word that conveys some of the important meaning of the sentence’s content. I talk about this style rule in another blog post, too.

Bottom line: The rule against prepositions at the end of a sentence is a stylistic suggestion. It’s no more of a rule than the suggestion against uber-long sentences.

Verb Particles in Disguise

With this rule in mind, you should also be aware of verb particles. Many times, what seems like a preposition at the end of a sentence is actually a verb particle.

What’s a verb particle?

Verb particles (aka phrasal verbs) are words that are often prepositions (e.g., “up” or “down” or “between”) that are part of a verb phrase.

A great example is “She fell down the stairs.” You can tell that “down” isn’t a preposition by removing it from the sentence: “She fell the stairs.” The sentence no longer makes sense—“down” is a necessary part of the verb.

A sentence ending with a verb particle might be “The bomb blew up.” The word “up” is necessary for this sentence to retain its meaning, and “up” is neither serving as an adjective describing “bomb” nor an adverb describing the direction that the bomb blew.

When Should You Not Have a Preposition at the End of a Sentence?

Despite all that I’ve just said, there are times when it is not appropriate end sentences with prepositions. But when?

Consider Writing Style

When you are working on creative writing that is heavily focused on style (poetry or short prose, for example), avoid ending sentences with prepositions.

Think of it this way: The last word in a sentence receives emphasis. Why would you waste that emphasis on a preposition? That emphasis is better spent on a more important word in the sentence. The last word should be one of the most important people, things, actions, or descriptors in the sentence.

Consider Your Audience

You know it’s okay to put prepositions at the end of sentences, but that doesn’t mean everybody does. If your audience doesn’t know that this whole preposition-end-of-sentence rule is a myth, then don’t risk aggravating your audience. And you probably don’t want to debate back and forth with your audience over grammar rules.

You also might want to avoid ending your sentences with verb particles as well. Most people do not know that there is a difference between verb particles and prepositions—it’s not the sort of thing typically taught in high school English or composition 101.

All that said, I typically err on the side of ending sentences with prepositions, rather than not. But that might not be your policy.

When Should You Have a Preposition at the End of a Sentence?

If your audience is okay with your ending sentences with prepositions and your writing piece’s style allows for prepositions in the ultimate position in sentences, then end sentences with prepositions when it is appropriate.

When is it appropriate?

To Avoid Awkward Sentences

Some sentences would just be awkward if you tried to reword them to avoid that preposition at the end.

For example, “He had what he had come for.”

Rewording this sentence results in, “He had which for what he had come” or perhaps “He had that for which he had come.” In this case, it’s better to just keep the preposition at the end.

When You Feel Like Being Rebellious

Seriously, ending sentences with prepositions makes me feel rebellious. I recommend putting prepositions at the end of sentences just for the fun of it.

Anytime It’s Not Inappropriate

Finally, feel free to end sentences with prepositions anytime you want to and anytime it’s not a bad idea (as listed in the above section).

Bust the preposition myth and share this post with somebody else!

Other sources: Guide for the Advancing Grammarian by Kathleen Black. Second edition. 2008.

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