Ask the Editor: Prepositions
Editor Betty Kelly Sargent answers writing questions submitted by readers. This month, she takes a look at prepositions.Dear Editor: Can I use a preposition at the end of a sentence?
Yes, you can—most of the time. A preposition shows the relationship of a noun or pronoun to some other word in a sentence. This relationship usually has something to do with time, space, or location. Some examples of prepositions are at, by, for, on, off, in, out, over, under, and with.
Why do so many cling to the notion that one shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition? Robert Lowth, an 18th-century English clergyman, wrote a grammar book saying a preposition shouldn’t go at the end of a sentence. He probably based this on the word’s Latin origin, praeponere, which means “position before.”
The idea caught on. But, as with so many old and rigid rules of grammar, this, too, has given way to contemporary usage.
“What did you slip on?” is a fine sentence. Why? First, the preposition is necessary to the sentence; it wouldn’t make sense without the preposition. Second, it would sound pretty odd to say, “On what did you slip?”
If rewording a sentence to avoid putting the preposition at the end makes it sound stiff or pedantic, don’t do it. But, if you prefer “There are some problems for which there are no easy solutions,” instead of, “There are some problems that there are no easy solutions for,” that’s fine, too.
But if the preposition is extraneous to a sentence—as in “Where are you at?” or “Where did the boys go to?”—eliminate it.
Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.
If you have a question for the editor, please email Betty Sargent.