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A Word, Please: Words you an end sentences with

September 10, 2011|By June Casagrande

I’ve been saying it so long I’ve started to doubt my own words. There’s a myth out there, I tell people, a widespread superstition that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. Then I go on to address that myth.

But the truth is, I haven’t heard anyone say that in years. Most of the people I’m around these days are editors and writers and grammar buffs. The only time the subject comes up is when people are talking about myth itself.

So I’ve been starting to wonder whether the myth is, well, mythical — or at least on the brink of extinction.

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Then, just last week, there was a grammar discussion at one of my freelance jobs among not just the editorial people, but also some non-editorial people.

“All I know about grammar,” one man chimed in, “is that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition.”

The myth lives! So allow me to take another stab at killing it, starting with a basic primer.

Prepositions are words like “at,” “with,” “for,” “from,” “above,” “below” and “without.” Their job is to link nouns and pronouns with other elements in a sentence. Pete threw the ball at Joe. Mary went to talk with her teacher. I made a sweater for him.

The noun or pronoun the preposition is paired with is its object: “at Joe,” “with her teacher,” “for him” — in each of these prepositional phrases a noun or pronoun serves as the preposition’s partner.

That’s why it’s often weird to put a preposition right at the end, where it’s split from its object. Joe is the person Pete threw the ball at. It’s the teacher Mary went to talk with. He’s the one I made the sweater for.

These are all clunky, awkward alternatives to the more direct and simple sentences we saw above. So it’s clear why someone might recommend you avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to do so. There’s no rule against ending a sentence with a preposition, and there never was one.

“The ‘rule’ prohibiting a terminal preposition was an ill-founded superstition,” says the Chicago Manual of Style. “A sentence that ends in a preposition may sound more natural than a sentence carefully constructed to avoid a final preposition.”

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