Can You End a Sentence with a Preposition?

Can you end a sentence with a preposition? I love Winston Churchill’s answer: “That is something up with which I will not put.”

Despite Winston Churchill’s dismissal of this grammatical nonsense, most of us have had an English teacher or two warn us about putting a preposition at the end of a sentence:

I haven’t decided whom I’m going to the prom with.  AWKWARD

I haven’t decided with whom I’m going to the prom.  AWKWARD

You can see the difficulty: Both versions are clumsy. If you’re aiming for a sentence that sounds natural, you might have to start over:

I haven’t decided who’s going to the prom with me.  BETTER

Instead of worrying about that preposition at the end, we might all be better off if we tried for the smoothest, most natural wording.

Another difficulty is that many common prepositions can also act as adverbs: off, up, out, on. Even the strictest grammarian would say you’re allowed to end a sentence with an adverb. So it’s perfectly ok to end a sentence with, say, the word out if it’s used as an adverb – but woe betide you if out (the same word) is acting as a preposition.

As soon as it stops raining, I’m going to take the dog out.  BAD: out is a preposition.

Janice is in the hospital, so I’m going over to her house to help out.  GOOD: out is an adverb.

Do we really need to spend our precious time making judgments about these hairsplitting distinctions?

Here are some phrases that seem to contain prepositions but actually end in adverbs and are acceptable at the end of a sentence:

sign uplog oncheer upcarry on, step downback up

Bottom line: Use your ear to decide whether a sentence is awkward and needs rewriting. And – if you live in the Deep South – remember that ending a sentence with an unnecessary at (“Where’s Jimmy at?”) isn’t appropriate for formal writing. Stick to “Where’s Jimmy?”

 

 

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