Always Looking It Up: Is It Okay To End A Sentence With A Preposition?

"Always Looking It Up" over photo of computer screens and books

Ending a sentence with a preposition is one of those grammar taboos that many have heard. Some follow it as a rule, while others aren’t even sure what it means, and some say it’s entirely bogus. So, is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition?

The short answer is yes, pretty much. But let’s look at how we got in this situation.

A Bit of History

Like the split infinitives “rule,” the ordinance to avoid prepositions at the end of sentences comes trying to make English conform to Latin grammar. Preposition comes from the Latin prae (before) and ponere (to place). In Latin writing, a preposition is always placed before the noun or pronoun it’s linked to.

John Dryden is probably the most cited proponent of avoiding terminal prepositions. In fact, his 1672 “Defense of the Epilogue” is sometimes considered the first example of someone criticizing this sentence structure. In it, Dryden writes that using a preposition at the end of a sentence is “a common fault” of Ben Jonson’s writing.

Since then, the prohibition against prepositions at the end of sentences has been a semi-regular teaching. But, the thing is, people have always written prepositions at the end of sentences, from before Dryden to present day. Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Lewis Carroll, the list could go on and on.

Usage Guides

Today, most usage guides will agree that the preposition rule is a grammar myth.

The Chicago Manual of Style says “The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences or clauses with prepositions is an unnecessary and pedantic restriction. And it is wrong.”

Oxford Dictionaries says there are in fact four situations where it is quite natural to end with a preposition:

  • passive structures
  • relative clauses
  • infinitive structures
  • questions beginning with who, where, what etc.

Grammar Girl Mignon Fogerty adds one more instance:

  • phrasal verbs

Fogerty says there are many cases when ending a sentence with a preposition sounds more natural and less pedantic than rearranging it, but adds a caveat. A sentence should not end in a preposition if the preposition is unnecessary. If it can be removed without changing the meaning of a sentence, then it should be removed.

Should You Avoid Ending Sentences with Prepositions?

Since there’s nothing actually grammatically wrong with prepositions at the end of sentences, you shouldn’t worry about rearranging your sentences to avoid them. Just avoid them when they’re not necessary and you should be fine in most cases.

Of course, you may have readers who hold to this myth, in which case you’ll have to decide if you’re okay upsetting (or educating) them, or if it’s simpler to uphold the faulty rule.

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