This question drives even the most educated writers crazy. We see it all the time, and we have been told time and time again that you should never end a sentence with a preposition. However, ending a sentence with a preposition is not entirely wrong. While it may not be considered acceptable all the time, and while some people may still argue that it is unacceptable all the time, it is actually okay to end a sentence with a preposition.
What is a preposition, anyway?
Prepositions are used to construct sentences. They are used to show a relation of location, time and direction by linking nouns, phrases or pronouns to other words. Examples of prepositions include above, on, against, during and throughout. Look through this page for details on this topic.
When it is okay to end with a preposition.
Though we have been told that we shouldn’t end sentences with prepositions, sometimes it is necessary. For example, if the preposition is necessary for the sentence to make sense, it is okay to end with it. Take the following sentence as an example:
• What are you looking at?
If you removed the “at”, the sentence would become, “What are you looking?” This sentence doesn’t make sense without the preposition, so it is okay to leave it in.
Some people may argue that you simply need to rewrite the sentence so that it doesn’t end with a preposition. These people would argue that you should change “What are you looking at?” to “At what are you looking?” Rephrasing the sentence is okay to do, but who really talks that way?
Many scholars believe that rephrasing the sentence so that it does not end with a preposition is untrue to the way we speak; therefore, why should we do it? Grammar has changed over the years, and we have become more lax in the way we speak and write. If the preposition is required at the end of the sentence for it to make sense, it is okay to use it.
When should you not end with a preposition?
Just because it is okay to sometimes end sentences with prepositions doesn’t mean that it is okay to do all the time. There are still occasions when ending with a preposition is unacceptable. If the sentence still makes sense without the ending preposition, it should be left off. Use the following sentence as an example:
• Where is he going to?
If you remove the “to” from the sentence, the sentence still makes sense. Asking “Where is he going” has the same meaning as “Where is he going to?” In this case, the “at” is unnecessary, so it should be removed.
You should also refrain from ending sentences with prepositions when writing important pieces, such as white papers, essays or cover letters. Since some people still believe that ending with a preposition is an error, doing so could result in sounding uneducated, receiving a lower grade or not getting the interview.
So, yes, it is okay to end a sentence with a preposition as long as it is necessary for the sentence to make sense. Disregard what you have been taught over the years, and write for clarity. Some people will think you’re wrong, but they may just be stuck in their ways.
Mark Weatherford is a high school english teacher and published author who enjoys giving advice. He is also an advocate of grammar checkers and always insists his students and colleagues utilize them to ensure their writing is clear and mistake-free. He is currently editing a Lord of the Flies summary.