Grammar Rules: Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

ending a sentence with a preposition

Is ending a sentence with a preposition ever acceptable?

A longstanding grammar myth  says we’re not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. For years, this myth has persisted, tying writers up in knots and making their heads spin around sentences that simply must end with a preposition.

For example: Which store are you going to?

Folks who were taught (and are now attached to the idea) that one should never end a sentence with a preposition will argue that the proper way to write the sentence is as follows: To which store are you going?

But nobody talks that way.

Grammar rules and myths

In the world of writing, grammar myths abound, but where do they come from? I suspect they are born not out of rules but out of rules of thumb. In many cases, it’s not a good idea to end a sentence with a preposition. Allow me to demonstrate:

Where do you work at?

The problem here is not so much that the sentence ends with a preposition. It ends with a completely unnecessary word. Remove that last word and you get a much clearer, more concise, and correct sentence:

Where do you work?

This begs the question: when is it acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition? In fact, what is a preposition?

What is a preposition?

Prepositions are one of the traditional eight parts of speech in the English language. They usually indicate a direction or placement in space (in, on, toward) or perform a similar function in a more abstract and less spatial way (of, for). They tend to indicate a relationship or movement of some kind:

The book is in my hand.
Put the blanket over the bed.
Let’s go to the hall of mirrors.
I have something for you.
The pens are with the paper.

Some of the most common prepositions are: on, in, to, by, for, with, at, of, from, as, under, over, about, above, below, behind, and between. There are plenty more, but you get the idea.

By the way, you can learn a lot more than you ever wanted to know about prepositions on Wikipedia.

When is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition?

If you’ve structured your sentence as concisely as possible, removed any unnecessary words, and the only way to refrain from ending it with a preposition is to make it sound like it arrived in a time machine from the eighteenth century, then you’re probably okay keeping the preposition at the end:

Who are you going with?
What are you waiting for?
We need something to put it in.

As you can see, these are all standard sentences. They adhere to the rules of grammar yet they all end in prepositions. Just try rewriting them without prepositions at the end:

With whom are you going?
For what are you waiting?
We need something in which to put it.

These are all technically correct too, if you don’t mind sounding like you were born three hundred years ago.

Try it for yourself

Take a look at the following sentence:

There’s an idea I never thought of.

There’s nothing technically wrong with the sentence, but we could rewrite it so it doesn’t end with a preposition:

I never thought of that idea.

Which one sounds better to you?

Grammar and common sense

The issue with ending a sentence with a preposition is more a matter of style or rhetoric than grammar. If you want proof, check out this list of references on ending a sentence with a preposition.

So go forth and end sentences with prepositions, but only when it makes sense to do so. Write your sentences to be clear and concise, and you’ll be fine. Keep writing!

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


12 Responses to “Grammar Rules: Ending a Sentence with a Preposition”

  1. Yvonne Root says:

    About whom were you thinking when you wrote this, Melissa?

    Oh, never mind. It helped me feel better about they way I write.


  2. Bill Polm says:

    Glad to see you say this.
    My take on the why of it is that some people who place a high premium on being always logical and think that language should be the same say things like: A preposition takes an object, therefore it should always have an object. Same with splitting an infinitive or using which verses that, and on and on. “Rules” people think are good grammar but are merely custom and tradition.
    Language is a human thing, and we all know we’re not always logical. Nor should we be. Where’s the fun in that?
    Grammar is a necessity, so that we obey the conventions most of the time and others can get our meaning. But it won’t make you a better writer, maybe a correct one!

    • Well, I think prepositions do always have an object, since they indicate relationships of some sort. In the example “Who are you going with?” the object is “who.” It’s just a matter of where it is placed in the sentence relative to the preposition. There may be some exceptions to this, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

      Having said that, I agree with you that language is human and we humans are often illogical. So there are plenty of constructions in our languages that defy logic, and that’s okay.

  3. Deb says:

    I don’t like the idea that speaking correctly means you sound antiquated. People have lost enough brain cells as it is. Let us have this one.

    • Well, the point is that it is correct (in some cases) to end a sentence with a preposition. Our language is supposed to evolve with how we speak, so if something becomes common usage (like ending sentences with prepositions), eventually, the grammarians will accept it. I do hope some of these constructions don’t become common usage (like “Where are you at?”).

  4. It makes me feel so much better to know that there are times I can end with a preposition. Sometimes I end up with torturous sentence structures in trying to get rid of them and I give up.

  5. Kelvin Kao says:

    Whenever this topic comes up, I am always reminded of that “ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put” quote.

  6. Scott says:

    Often, that ending preposition is actually the separable particle of a phrasal verb, which often naturally occurs at the end of a sentence in Germanic languages like English.

    • Thanks, Scott. That’s true, but it was beyond the scope of this piece, which was really just to address the question of ending sentences with prepositions. Perhaps I’ll expand on it in another piece.