Is It Okay To End A Sentence With A Preposition?

Occasionally, we grammar enthusiasts need to take a step back and lighten up a little bit. While there are some grammar rules that are hard and fast (I’m looking at you, comma splice), sometimes there is wiggle room. One of those wiggly rules is the assumption that sentences shouldn’t end in prepositions. Well, guess what? I’m here to liberate your pens and tell you that it’s okay for your protagonist to ask her cheating boyfriend who he was just with.

Quick review: What is a preposition? These puppies explain it pretty well.

Horses Beach

Prepositions: The Horses ride ON the beach while the tide comes IN. You see their reflections IN the water. Photo by Mike Baird.

If you’ve ever written yourself into a corner fretting over the preposition rule, breathe deep. It’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition, but there are a few caveats.

If the meaning of the sentence is still clear without the ending preposition, then remove it. In my hometown in the hills of western PA, it’s not uncommon to overhear someone on the phone asking, “Hey, where are you at?” It’s also not uncommon to overhear someone refer to a group of people as “yinz guys,” so I’d hardly claim my hometown as a beacon of good grammar and usage.

However, if the preposition is key to the sentence’s meaning, and moving it would cause unnecessary written acrobatics, it’s fine to end your sentence with the preposition. For example:

Carla wanted to run, but her feet refused. What was she waiting for?

Rewriting that last phrase would completely convolute the prose. No one asks, “For what was she waiting?” Come on now.

PRACTICE

Joe here. Liz couldn’t think of an exercise for this one so she put it in my hands. Big mistake, Bureman. Liz’s reverence for grammar is equal to my disdain for it. So today we’re going to take the “it’s kind of okay to end your sentence with a preposition” rule to its logical conclusion.

Let’s end every sentence with a preposition.

Go back to the puppies prepositions page if you need to, and try to write as many sentences ending with a preposition as you can in fifteen minutes. It’s okay if the sentences don’t go together, but you get bonus points for, one, the funniest sentence and, two, the best imitation of a Western Pennsylvanian.

Good luck, yinz guys!

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

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  • Kristentorrestoro

    This always make me laugh, because my friends from the North will say things like, “Want to come with?” The writer and Southerner in me wants to hear the end of the sentence. But then I know there are areas I probably do that as well. :0)

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Oh yes, you Southerners are so much more proper than us Yanks.

    • Marianne

      I have heard that too, and had the same feeling. Very odd, but then I guess my “you alls” are odd to them. The thing about ending in prepositions, as you said, makes the listener wait for the end of the sentence.

  • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

    Dude, this is pretty hard!

    One day it was on.
    The next day it was off.
    What happened to happily ever after?
    To have her near.
    To have her around.
    Feelings of remorse and regret came up.
    Maybe one day, one day this would all pass by.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Nicely done, Jim. Cool poem considering you had such a strict form to work with.

      • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

        Thanks, I’d love to stretch it out and write more (just what I need another work-in-progress right). The cool part is I don’t feel the prepositions are forced-it flows alright for the most part.

        I think it could make a cool song idea.

        • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

          And yes, this is the by-product to listening to a lot of Kelly Clarkson. Haha.

  • http://spiritualsidekick.com/ Tom Wideman

    This reminds me of my Senior Prom…yes, prom. The theme for the night was taken from Diana Ross’s hit song, “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” but the faculty decided it had to be reworded to “Do You Know to Where You Are Going.”

    • Elaine

      Ending a sentence with a preposition is a practice up with which I will not put!

      • Oddznns

        was it yoder who did so much of that to words with?

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Incredible. Way to censor Diana Ross’ bad grammar, faculty. You showed her.

  • Marianne

    Ending is prepositions certainly limited the amount that I can write in fifteen minutes. This is awful, very trite, but I’m not going to try it again. It made me have to think about each sentence separately and that ruined the flow and the content. Maybe my norm isn’t as bad as I think.

    Carlita took the letter out of the envelope, scanned it, and put it back inside. It was more than she could cope with. Peter was someone who she tried not to think about, someone who she certainly didn’t want to hear from. There affair was over. They had been lovers years ago, but he had left her behind. She once thought that he was the only honest man, she had ever come across. It must be said that her standards for honesty were, relative to our normal standards of decency and manners, above and beyond. He had never tried to borrow money from her, if he was short on cash, he just did without. Funny and charismatic, had been a pleasure to be around. Now she didn’t want to know that he was in town or anywhere near. Peter stranded her at the alter years ago and she hadn’t heard from him since. The letter was more, much more than she could cope with.

  • Marianne

    Ending is prepositions certainly limited the amount that I can write in fifteen minutes. This is awful, very trite, but I’m not going to try it again. It made me have to think about each sentence separately and that ruined the flow and the content. Maybe my norm isn’t as bad as I think.

    Carlita took the letter out of the envelope, scanned it, and put it back inside. It was more than she could cope with. Peter was someone who she tried not to think about, someone who she certainly didn’t want to hear from. There affair was over. They had been lovers years ago, but he had left her behind. She once thought that he was the only honest man, she had ever come across. It must be said that her standards for honesty were, relative to our normal standards of decency and manners, above and beyond. He had never tried to borrow money from her, if he was short on cash, he just did without. Funny and charismatic, had been a pleasure to be around. Now she didn’t want to know that he was in town or anywhere near. Peter stranded her at the alter years ago and she hadn’t heard from him since. The letter was more, much more than she could cope with.

    • Elaine

      This is excellent. When I read it I want to know what happens next, not which preposition comes next.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      It’s not too bad. It might be a little heavy on the back story side of things, but you do some interesting things, like this line, “He had never tried to borrow money from her, if he was short on cash, he just did without.” That’s excellent characterization, and I definitely wasn’t expecting it.

  • Marianne Vest

    Ending is prepositions certainly limited the amount that I can write in fifteen minutes. This is awful, very trite, but I’m not going to try it again. It made me have to think about each sentence separately and that ruined the flow and the content. Maybe my norm isn’t as bad as I think.

    Carlita took the letter out of the envelope, scanned it, and put it back inside. It was more than she could cope with. Peter was someone who she tried not to think about, someone who she certainly didn’t want to hear from. Their affair was over. They had been lovers years ago, but he had left her behind. She once thought that he was the only good, only honest man, she had ever come across. It must be said that her standards for honesty were, relative to our normal standards of decency and manners, above and beyond. He had never tried to borrow money from her, if he was short on cash, he just did without. Funny and charismatic, he had been a pleasure to be around. Now she didn’t want to know that he was in town or anywhere near. Peter stranded her at the alter years ago and she hadn’t heard from him since. The letter was more, much more than she could cope with.

  • Marianne Vest

    Ending is prepositions certainly limited the amount that I can write in fifteen minutes. This is awful, very trite, but I’m not going to try it again. It made me have to think about each sentence separately and that ruined the flow and the content. Maybe my norm isn’t as bad as I think.

    Carlita took the letter out of the envelope, scanned it, and put it back inside. It was more than she could cope with. Peter was someone who she tried not to think about, someone who she certainly didn’t want to hear from. There affair was over. They had been lovers years ago, but he had left her behind. She once thought that he was the only honest man, she had ever come across. It must be said that her standards for honesty were, relative to our normal standards of decency and manners, above and beyond. He had never tried to borrow money from her, if he was short on cash, he just did without. Funny and charismatic, had been a pleasure to be around. Now she didn’t want to know that he was in town or anywhere near. Peter stranded her at the alter years ago and she hadn’t heard from him since. The letter was more, much more than she could cope with.

  • Anonymous

    Ending is prepositions certainly limited the amount that I can write in fifteen minutes. This is awful, very trite, but I’m not going to try it again. It made me have to think about each sentence separately and that ruined the flow and the content. Maybe my norm isn’t as bad as I think.

    Carlita took the letter out of the envelope, scanned it, and put it back inside. It was more than she could cope with. Peter was someone who she tried not to think about, someone who she certainly didn’t want to hear from. Their affair was over. They had been lovers years ago, but he had left her behind. She once thought that he was the only honest man, she had ever come across. It must be said that her standards for honesty were, relative to our normal standards of decency and manners, above and beyond. He had never tried to borrow money from her, if he was short on cash, he just did without. Funny and charismatic, Peter had been a pleasure to be around. Now she didn’t want to know that he was in town or anywhere near. Peter stranded her at the alter years ago and she hadn’t heard from him since. The letter was more, much more than she could cope with.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry there are five of the same from me. I was trying to add an image and edit the text.

  • Bethany

    I’m mustering the courage to take on this challenge. Yup, it’s a hard one. Ending a sentence with a preposition hurts!

    What are we afraid of? It’s difficult to turn the “writing” switch off. Sometimes the game face goes on. There is lots of insecurity to go around. Who are we writing for? What are we after? Living, feeling, and sharing –that’s what it’s all about. Finding the joy in each day is what we’re after. Happiness does not come until all expectations are blown behind. It’s a raging fire within. And many are finding that it’s Joe Bunting who’s fanning the flames, offering words of wisdom that we can’t do without.

    • Anonymous

      That’s cool. It seems that is might be harder to do exposition than action in this exercise. I’m not sure why I think that.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Oh please. Don’t blame me for your creativity OR your happiness.

      Good job, though, Bethany. Way to take on the challenge. :)

      • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

        Note to self- include the words Joe Bunting for a positive response. Haha :)

  • Elaine

    I afraid some of these terminal words aren’t used as prepositions, but I did what I could and tried to be satisfied where I ended at.

    I was supposed to have spinach soufflé for lunch but I didn’t want that; I was starving and wanted a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich to tear into. Spinach is green and sticks to your teeth so you look funny on the outside even when you feel good within. And you know how it is when all the kids are just looking for someone to laugh at? They love it when they spot you and recognize their luck at finding someone to be mean to. All they want out of life is someone with spinach in his teeth, someone they can really dump on.

    The cafeteria lady slapped some soufflé onto my plate but I really didn’t want it so I begged her to take it off. She was so mean that she wouldn’t take it back and just told me to behave and to move along. I tried to stall the inevitable by telling her that I couldn’t move along while Boris the fat kid wouldn’t let me by. If I bumped Boris he wouldn’t hesitate for a heartbeat before beating me up.

    The cafeteria lady, having no regard for my life, looked at me over the sneeze guard and scowled down. Possessing more courage than smarts, I asked again if she couldn’t please switch the soufflé for a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich that would quell my fear and really bring me around. The cafeteria lady wasn’t made of stone, so finally she took my plate, dumped the soufflé, grabbed a PB&J, handed me a clean plate, and laid that beautiful sandwich across.

    • Anonymous

      This is funny. Spinach what a subject. Anne Lamott suggests in her book that you write about broccoli, 300 words. It was fun to do but I don’t think I could do it and end each sentence with a preposition.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks for practicing, Elaine. I liked how you used a semicolon in that first sentence just so you could end it with “into.” Very nice. ;)

      I loved this sentence: “All they want out of life is someone with spinach in his teeth….”

      And this, “And laid that beautiful sandwich across.” That has such a nice ring to it. Wonderful stuff, Elaine.

    • Oddznns

      This is so funny. And almost all the sentences end in prepostions. I love the way you recreate the middle/junior school lunch line.

    • Chris

      LOVE LOVE LOVE this!!! Hurrah

  • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

    “What are you doing that for?”
    “I was trying to get under. That’s the only way to get aboard.”
    “You should have gone behind. I don’t know why you didn’t think of that before.”
    “I’m getting pretty near. Now, move over!”
    “No, you have to move across.”
    “What are you doing that for?”
    “Because you’re going to end up above.”
    “But this is the only way I can get in from.”
    “Are you trying to get inside?”
    “Well, through.”
    “You can try going around.”
    “I did that before.”
    ‘Try going beneath.”
    “Then I’d have to go between.”
    “Ah, cripe! I don’t know what you’re about.”
    “You can come along.”
    “Only if I can get underneath.”

    • Anonymous

      I’m trying to imagine where they are. It must be a maze or maybe they’re working some kind of 3-D puzzle?

      • http://kinswomans-pursuit.blogspot.com/ Casey

        I had in mind two boys trying to convert a treehouse into a booby-trapped pirate ship.

        I don’t handle dialogue well. I’ve been playing around with this kind of dialogue for a few months, hoping I can learn to convey a mood without having to tell the mood. I usually tell too much and show too little.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I like this one:

      “Well, through.”

      And this one:

      “You can come along.”

      Very clever way to take on this exercise, Casey. I’m quite impressed. I agree with Marianne, though. I want to know what’s going on!

    • Chris

      It reminds me of the “Who’s on 1st base?” monologue. Very clever.

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  • Chris

    This is an outrageously funny exercise to start with. I can’t think of anything more hysterical than this. Also pretty challenging to come up with enough prepositions to end sentences on. Yesterday I went to Hobby Lobby and asked my mom if she wanted to come with. She said no and left me on my own. I wandered the aisles until I finally asked a clerk where the chunky yarns were. She told me where I might find them at. Finding them there I then searched to if I could find the proper-sized needles to accompany them.

    Happily armed with my yarn and needles, I journeyed back home to take my dog Lucy out. Out to play and to potty. She loves going out. Even when it’s fiendishly cold out.

    (Sorry, I first of all forgot to set my timer when I originally started, so – when I went back to check it still stubbornly said 15 mins! Then I hesitated a lot in between sentences, not the best way to do a timed exercise. Still, I had fun – sorry for the last bit – kind of not very creative :P )

    –Chris, happily diving in (finally, for better or for worse)

    • Nancy

      Your first paragraph has some really good examples and demonstrates the need for the rule. The next paragraph has sentences that end in adverbs, not prepositions. It shows that this assignment was more complicates than it first appeared. But good stuff to consider.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Haha, this one was terrible, “She told me where I might find them at.” Way to prove why sometimes it’s good to follow the rules!

      Nice job, Chris!

  • Nancy

    Where was this post three days ago when I was struggling with ending with “for”? I had to choose and then submit. Did I make the right choice in this paragraph?

    When the black and gray coots paddle leisurely past my cabin, I know the winter solstice is upon us. And when they suddenly dart into a tight-knit raft, I know an eagle is looking for breakfast. I glance toward the sky to see a magnificent white-headed, white-tailed raptor soaring beneath winter’s gray sky. And I don’t know who to root for, the cute little coot separated from the raft or the beautiful eagle eyeing him.

    Later int he blog: And I don’t know who to root for, the monogamous eagles trying to feed their kids or the hard-working salmon just trying to have some.

    “For whom to root” would have been proper grammar, but I’m talking about birds here. Can you use whom for birds? I went with root for. What do you think–have too many years in cheerleading ruined my grammar?

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Yes. You ruined your mind with your cheerleading.

      Just kidding ;)

      I think it sounds beautiful, Nancy. For whom would be awkward.

  • http://profiles.google.com/lialondon.g Lia London

    Amen! This rule is so archaic. Based on Latin (like the split infinitive). I’m thinking that better proof of the need to chill out on this rule is to have a casual conversation with someone and never end a phrase with a preposition. You’ll sound like a total dweeb.

    From where do you come? In what line of work are you? At which school did you study? At what time did the party start? Of what are you thinking? To where are you going?

    Not very casual.

    Good post, Joe!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Yeah that’s super awkward.

  • Karen S. Elliott

    I had to memorize the list in school, junior high I think it was, “about above across…” Yes, I agree, sometimes it is just darn awkward to try to switch that preposition problem around. I cannot do the challenge as I’m too busy getting about.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      “Too busy getting about.” I see what you did there.

  • Colleen G.

    Finally my Pittsburghese can shine. Enjoy! Today I rode the subway (T) to duwntuwn (downtown) to meet with my friend Juhn (John) where we decided to eat at Primanti’s (Yum) outside. After lunch we decided to go over to Station Square were we went on an Incline ride above. On the way up the mountain we could see the three rivers and beyond. What a site to see. What a city to grow up in (N that).

    Ok, a little harder than I thougth but fun to do.
    -Former Pgh gal

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Oh man, you get big bonus points. Love the parenthetical statements. Great job, Colleen :)

  • Oddznns

    It’s New Year for me again, the real one for those of us who know where time begins and ends at. That’s just after the stroke of midnight with the moon disappeared to God knows where. We step out, new clothes on (even to the underwear inside). We breath in, New Year morning midnight air all around. We step over the threshold, crossing that intangible in-between.

    The foods we eat signal what our hopes are as we cross over. The fears we want to leave behind. My husband’s people set out five fruits – bananas, soursop, coconut, papaya, mango – homonyms for a very humble request for enough to spend, not daring to ask more from the heavens above. They eat bitter mellon – another homonym, the hope that bitterness will pass them by! In Singapore, smothered in comfort and efficiency, there’s no starvation, war and death to run from. We eat prawns, hah-hah to all the blessings we’ll be thankful for. We eat fish surplus that pile up and upon. We lay out many-segmented oranges and pomelos, sure our families and generations will multiply until … We don’t know what it’s like to hope otherwise, my countrymen, myself.

    For us, this is how it is … this is where it’s at. We live in a land of plenty and our eyes are fixed on a more plentiful beyond. We don’t realize what a big deal this is to be thankful for. And that too is a something to be thankful for!

    Happy Lunar New Year everyone, “Wanshi ruyi” – may everything happen as you wish!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      “The real one for those of us who know where time begins and ends at.” Oh really? :)

      I didn’t know this, “We step out, new clothes on (even to the underwear inside).” Interesting.

      Beautiful, “We live in a land of plenty and our eyes are fixed on a more plentiful beyond”

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  • http://www.jonathonvs.com Jonathon

    Prepositions are perfectly acceptable words to end sentences with! :) I love how, when someone tried to tell Churchill that it was incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition, he quipped that it was “nonsense up with which I will not put.”

    Like the article said, though, the reason for this rule is the problem of people adding completely superfluous prepositions at the end (“where are we going to?”, “when is she arriving by?”, etc.)