Why yes, you may end with a preposition

The Merry GrammarianHere’s a question I get asked quite often as a grammar guru: Can you end a sentence in a preposition?

Yes, dear readers. Yes, you can.

Not ending a sentence in a preposition (about, off, at, too, by, etc) is yet another of those grammar myths, similar to the “rule” about not being allowed to start a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, for, yet, or, and so on. As I wrote about in a previous column, it’s totally legit to start a sentence in modern English with a conjunction). And it’s perfectly natural to end a sentence in English with a preposition.

Now, I know many of you were probably taught in school that ending with a preposition is verboten. But believe it or not, there’s never been a formal rule against it. In fact, ending with a preposition is often a clearer and easier way to speak and write in English.

Take, for instance, this example: To whom were you talking? 
Compare that with this: Who were you talking to?

Sure, the first sentence avoids ending with a preposition. But it sounds a little unnatural or dated, more fitting for the Dowager Countess than a modern American-English writer. The second is clearer and plainer—and therefore more easily understood.

Now, there may be times when ending with a preposition can sound clunky or awkward. If that’s the case, then by all means, rearrange.

Still, some may dislike the construction of a sentence that ends in a preposition, and you may find yourself edited or otherwise pressured to change your sentence. If you want to avoid controversy, then go ahead and rearrange.

But if you feel like ending with a preposition, and the sentence is clearer for it, then by all means—go for it. I promise: there are no rules against it.

–Rebecca Mahoney

Posted in Blog, The Merry Grammarian