GrammarPhile Blog

Myth: Never End a Sentence with a Preposition

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Oct 4, 2011 5:30:00 AM


The notion that ending a sentence with a preposition is grammatical heresy was originally advanced more than three centuries ago by the venerated English poet and essayist John Dryden. Dryden, a Latin scholar, based his view on the fact that prepositions are never found at the end of sentences written in Latin. And given Dryden's reputation, it is no surprise that his sentiments forged their way into the grammar texts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and eventually into the grammar classrooms of the twentieth century.

But here's the problem. Neither Dryden nor the grammarians who promoted his views envisioned the extent to which many of the most commonly used prepositions--or, to, in, about, over, of, etc.--would hook up with verbs to become common idioms. Nor did they take into account the awkwardness that results when you run one of these verb-preposition idioms through the never-end-a-sentence-with-a-preposition wringer.

- Ophelia is someone everybody looks up to.
- Ophelia is someone up to whom everybody looks.

- What are you talking about?
- About what are you talking?

Or the often-quoted Winston Churchill retort:

- This is the sort of impertinence up with which I will not put.

Yes, there are good reasons for keeping prepositions away from the end of a sentence, especially when the preposition is redundant, as in:

- Where are you working at?
- Where will you be at?

Generally, though, your ear will tell you when to follow John Dryden's advice and, more important, when it is advice to which you do not have to pay attention or about which you do not have to worry (just kidding!).

Source: Grammar for Smart People by Barry Tarshis

Agreement: "Those who lay down the universal principle that final prepositions are 'inelegant' are unconsciously trying to deprive the English language of a valuable idiomatic resource, which has been used freely by all our greatest writers except those whose instinct for English idiom has been overpowered by notions of correctness derived from Latin standards." Fowler

Corroboration: "The rule on not ending a sentence with a preposition? 'Right on!' as one character says in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. It's a silly rule. Yet, we should also note that while Dryden is the putative source of this poor rule, he did do a great deal to shape modern English, and his own prose style is in a wonderfully semi-formal yet often conversational form." - Jim Engell, Harvard English professor


Do you have any examples of famous sentences that end with a preposition?

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Topics: preposition, prepositions, preposition at end of sentence

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