Ending a Sentence with a Preposition | Examples & Tips
A preposition is a word such as “to”, “between”, “after”, or “for” that’s used to show the relationship between different elements in a sentence. They can express ideas related to time and location, as well as more abstract connections.
You may have been taught the rule that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition, suggesting that it’s wrong to say, for example, “What are you preparing for?” and that you should say “For what are you preparing?” instead.
As you might guess from the fact that the “corrected” sentence reads much less naturally than the first, this “rule” is a superstition with no basis in reality. There is no problem with ending a sentence with a preposition, and it’s often better to do so than not.
Placing a preposition at the end of a sentence is also called preposition stranding or a sentence-terminal preposition. Strictly speaking, the issue is not with placing the preposition at the end but with separating it from its object.
For example, in “What are you preparing for?” the preposition “for” is separated from its object “what”. This is what people who object to preposition stranding don’t like.
The “stranded” preposition might appear at the end of the sentence, at the end of a clause, or anywhere else separated from its object. According to supporters of this rule, it should only appear directly before its object (e.g., “for what”).
Where does the “rule” come from?
The rule is generally attributed to the 17th-century writers Joshua Poole and John Dryden. They based their objection to preposition stranding on Latin grammar. In Latin, a sentence can never end with a preposition.
Because Latin was seen as a more prestigious language than English, they assumed that imitating its rules would also result in more elegant English writing. But there’s no good reason for English to follow the rules of a dead language from which it differs in many ways.
The rule has been repeated over time by various grammarians, but language authorities since the 20th century have overwhelmingly rejected it, and few serious writers ever followed it consistently. No good style guide recommends following this rule, so you can safely ignore it.
A famous joke about this rule is the sentence “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put”. Refusing to put the prepositions “up” and “with” in their normal position at the end of the sentence creates a humorously unnatural phrasing. (The joke is often attributed to Winston Churchill, but there’s no evidence that he actually said it.)
How to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition
If you do want to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, you can do so in most cases. This will generally make the sentence read more formally but risks sounding unnatural.
To avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, you’ll have to move the preposition to an earlier point in the sentence, just before its object:
- Which page was the quotation you mentioned on?
- On which page was the quotation you mentioned?
In relative clauses, the object (e.g., a relative pronoun such as “what” or “whom”) is often omitted. If that’s the case, you’ll have to reinsert the object in order to place the preposition before it:
- There’s the woman I spoke to.
- There’s the woman to I spoke.
- There’s the woman to whom I spoke.
Note that the sentences without prepositions at the end read much more formally than the original sentences. In some cases, moving the preposition can result in a downright unnatural sentence. If you still want to avoid the sentence-ending preposition, you can try rephrasing to avoid the need for a preposition:
- I didn’t know what he was talking about.
- I didn’t know about what he was talking.
- I didn’t understand what he was trying to say.
What about prepositions that form phrasal verbs?
A preposition often functions as part of a phrasal verb, a verb consisting of multiple words. Some examples are “look up”, “log in”, and “zone out”.
When a phrasal verb is intransitive (i.e., it has no object), it’s quite common to find it at the end of a sentence. Because there’s no object, there’s no satisfactory way to avoid preposition stranding in such cases. Don’t attempt to do so; just leave the sentence as it is, since there’s no real problem anyway:
- John lay on the sofa and zoned out.
- John lay on the sofa and out zoned.
When it’s a real problem: Dangling prepositions
Sometimes, people who object to a preposition at the end of a sentence are actually pointing to a real (but separate) issue. The problem is prepositions that are simply not needed at all and should be removed. These are sometimes called dangling prepositions or redundant prepositions.
You may, for example, see a preposition that already appears earlier in the sentence repeated at the end. One of the prepositions should be removed:
- There are a lot of problems with which I’m dealing with.
- There are a lot of problems that I’m dealing with.
- There are a lot of problems with which I’m dealing.
- I’m dealing with a lot of problems.
Or you may see a preposition that simply isn’t necessary: it has no object, and the sentence would have the exact same meaning without it. This is quite common and not a problem in informal conversation, but it’s better to avoid redundancy in formal writing:
- She knows where she is going to.
- She knows where she is going.
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Frequently asked questions
- Can you end a sentence with a preposition?
Yes, it’s fine to end a sentence with a preposition. The “rule” against doing so is overwhelmingly rejected by modern style guides and language authorities and is based on the rules of Latin grammar, not English.
Trying to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition often results in very unnatural phrasings. For example, turning “He knows what he’s talking about” into “He knows about what he’s talking” or “He knows that about which he’s talking” is definitely not an improvement.
- Can you start a sentence with a preposition?
Yes, it’s quite common to start a sentence with a preposition, and there’s no reason not to do so.
For example, the sentence “To many, she was a hero” is perfectly grammatical. It could also be rephrased as “She was a hero to many”, but there’s no particular reason to do so. Both versions are fine.
Some people argue that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, but that “rule” can also be ignored, since it’s not supported by serious language authorities.
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