Ending a Sentence with a Preposition: Updating the Rules

To end a sentence with a preposition, or not to end a sentence with a preposition: that is the question! Sticklers (an individual who insists on a particular behavior or quality) for traditional grammar rules will say that you shouldn’t.

However, times have changed, and grammar rules evolved.

In this article, we will review, discuss, and clarify the rules on ending a sentence with a preposition.

Prepositions: A Quick Review

  • A preposition is a word that connects a noun, pronoun, or phrase to another word or phrase as its complement.

To simplify, prepositions are the glue that binds a sentence together. They typically come before a noun or pronoun and show the relation between two parts of a sentence. Prepositions can show time, location, and direction. For example:

  • We’re leaving in an hour.
  • She’s hiding under the table.
  • Let’s go over there.

Here is a list of ten common prepositions:

  • In – We’ll be there in an hour.
  • Around – The store is just around the corner.
  • Behind – He’s living behind the gym.
  • Between – It’s between you and me.
  • Among – The birds fly somewhere among the clouds.
  • Across – It’s just across the river.
  • Next – I’m sitting next to you.
  • Near – The soldiers are near the barn.
  • On – I’m standing on the box.
  • Above – His hand was above the rim.

When prepositions combine with their complements, they form a prepositional phrase. Generally, these phrases act as an adverb in a sentence but can also have other roles.

When to Avoid Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

Let’s explore when you should avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. More often than not, you’ll have the freedom to end a sentence however you choose, but in certain situations, that may not be the case.

  1. When writing formally

Ending a sentence with a preposition is not incorrect per se in most instances (more on that in the next section). However, when writing a formal document (think academic papers, business documents, etc.), it is best to avoid the practice.

This practice does not compliment formal speech and may be viewed as inappropriate or sound odd to a reader. Again, the practice is not grammatically incorrect, but err on the side of caution (idiomatic phrase that means to be careful) in formal writing, since it follows more traditional rules.

  1. When a preposition requires an object

Ending a sentence with a preposition doesn’t work if the preposition requires an object to make sense. For example, you wouldn’t say:

The little boy took her keys and hid them under.

The sentence is missing an object after under to understand where the keys are hidden. You would have to say:

The little boy took her keys and hid them under his stuffed animals.

When Ending a Sentence with a Preposition is OK

  1. When writing or conversing informally

Informal speech makes up most of our communication. And, unless you want to sound like you came from the 19th century, many phrases you use will end with a preposition.

The structure is accepted in casual conversation and tends to make it flow better.

For example, you wouldn’t say:

  • To whom should I give these keys?

You would say:

  • Who do these keys belong to?

No one says:

  • From where did you come?

Instead, you say:

  • Where did you come from?

You wouldn’t say:

  • In what kinds of things are you interested?

You would say:

  • What kinds of things are you interested in?

There are hundreds of examples, but you get the idea. Formal language would be a distraction in speech and wouldn’t serve your communication well.

  1. When the preposition is used as part of a phrasal verb

It’s correct to end a sentence with a preposition when the preposition is part of a phrasal verb. For example:

Hang out – Phrasal verb meaning to casually spend time at a particular place

  • Let’s hang out.
  • Do you want to hang out?

Calm downPhrasal verb meaning to relax

  • Tell him to calm down.
  • We need to calm down.

There are thousands of idioms and phrasal verbs in English, so this structure is one you’ll see, hear, and use constantly.

Overall, ending a sentence with a preposition may not be formal, but it is not incorrect. You may have no other choice when communicating since most communication happens at an informal level. It helps your speech and writing flow in the same way.

Remember these rules the next time someone tries to correct your grammar and says, “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition!

To find more tips and tricks on English grammar rules, check out the Magoosh English Speaking Blog.

Jake Pool

Jake Pool

Jake Pool worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade and left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. In his time at Magoosh, he's worked with hundreds of students and has created content that's informed—and hopefully inspired!—ESL students all across the globe. Jake records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension as he also works as a voice-over artist who has been featured in commercials and on audiobooks. You can read his posts on the Magoosh blog and see his other work on his portfolio page at jakepool.net. You can follow him on LinkedIn!
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