Call Us Free: 855.MY.EDITS

The Preposition Scandal

Have you ever heard anyone say, “From where are you?” or “With whom are you going?” If so, how did that sound to you? Were you thinking, seriously? Or, did you actually say that out loud? I’m sure you realized this, but both of these sample sentences end in prepositions.

Let’s review: A preposition is a word that describes the relationship between a noun or a pronoun and another word in the sentence. For example, the boy is running up the hill. Up is the preposition, and up describes the relationship between the boy (noun) and the hill. Here’s another one: Her wine glass is on the desk next to her computer. On and next are both prepositions, and glass is the noun. (I may or may not be referring to myself.) Did you recognize the prepositions and what they are doing in each sentence?

Well, there has been a long-standing belief that it is incorrect, in the English language, to end a sentence with a preposition. We’ve all heard the joke where the…let’s say Northerner asks the…um…Southerner, “Where are you from?” and the Southerner replies, “Where I’m from, we don’t end our sentences with prepositions.” I think we all know how the end of this joke turns out.  Or, should I have said, I think we all know how the end of this joke out turns? Um. No.

Mostly, we can blame John Dryden and Robert Lowth for passing down this grammar myth. In 1672, Dryden, according to an associate editor at Merriam-Webster, decided, in English, we should construct our sentences according to the Latin construction (with no “stranded prepositions). Then, in 1762, Robert Lowth penned a book called A Short Introduction to English Grammar. In this book, Mr. Lowth relays, “the placing of a Preposition before the Relative is more graceful, as well as more perspicuous, and agrees much better with the solemn and elevated Style.” What. A. Snob.

Side-note: the irony here is that perspicuous means clear or easily understood.

If it were possible, I would pose the following question to Mr. Lowth: How will we avoid “preposition stranding” in order to place the Prepositions in a more graceful manner so as to have the formal and appropriate appearance of agreeing with a solemn, elevated, and, of course, perspicuous style?

In other words, how can we rephrase the statements below to make sure the prepositions are not at the end of the sentence?

I don’t have anyone to go with.
This is the flight I’m supposed to be on.
She is so much fun to talk to.

Well, unless you’re a super-samurai-syntax-contortionist, I don’t really see a way without sounding completely supercilious. It IS okay to end a sentence with a preposition. I promise.

Word to the wise: In speaking, the rule-of-thumb to follow is this: as long as you are not being redundant, it’s okay to end the sentence with a preposition. For example, try to avoid saying things like, “Where did she go to?” The preposition to, in this case, would be considered redundant or not needed for clarity.

Caution on my promise: in formal writing (especially for business), I would always recommend being more grammatically conservative. For example, I would tend to write, “With whom are they going?”

Easy Recap: Prepositions describe the relationship between a noun or pronoun and another word in the sentence. You can usually recognize a preposition, because they typically refer to location or time. For example: over, under, around, below, and through, before, after, since, during, and until.

In speech, be relaxed (but correct). In formal/business writing, be Mr. Lowth.

Associations & Affiliations