Updated: Jun 7, 2022
Uncovering the Mystery of Prepositions
By Michael Heath / selfpublishingUS.com
There is an old saw that sentences should never end with a preposition but doing so does not always have to offend English teachers. Structuring a sentence that way is not grammatically correct in the strictest sense but is sometimes acceptable for reasons of common language. That is, a prepositional finish may sound better because it is what we are used to hearing in everyday speech.
What is a Preposition?
The Britannica Dictionary defines a preposition as a word or group of words that is used with a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, location, or time, or to introduce an object. Its main purpose is to connect a word or phrase with a word or phrase.
The woman is jogging toward the finish line. (direction)
A crystal lamp is on the table. (location)
The event will take place in May. (time)
Many people died of the flu. (Introduces an object)
Ending a sentence with a preposition.
It is important in writing to convey ideas in a clear way. Sometimes ending a sentence with a preposition is less awkward or confusing.
What are you hungry for?
Where is he from?
Who is the new car for?
The dinner had not been paid for.
Could you imagine saying “For what are you hungry?” or “From where is he?” or “For Whom is the new car?” Today, sentences like this sound stilted and could draw sideways glances. “Payment for dinner had not been made.” is not as stuffy as the preceding examples but may not work well in a casual setting.
Too Many Prepositions Can Be a Bad Thing
There used to be a time when newscasters were the guardians of proper English, but from what I hear coming from many of their mouths those days are gone. One common infraction is ending sentences with an extra preposition.
Wrong: This is where we are at.
Correct: This is where we are.
Wrong: In what bus will the students be going in?
Correct: In what bus will the students be going?
Formal v. Informal
While ending a sentence with a preposition may be colloquially allowable, it is more of a style thing that is considered by many grammarians to be unorthodox. With formal writing, it is recommended to avoid structuring a sentence that finishes with a preposition. Following stricter grammar guidelines will result in improved syntax and go a long way to keeping the English teachers happy.