If you ever had a strict, old-fashioned grammarian for an English teacher, you were probably told that you should never, ever end a sentence with a preposition. This English teacher believed it was absolutely wrong to end a sentence with “to”, “from”, “before”, “after”, “about”, “of”, “on”, “in”, “at”, “with”, “over”, or any other preposition. If you went ahead and did it anyway, your paper would be returned to you with red marks and a not-especially-good grade.
Fast forward a few years. You are working on a “business casual” email and you have just written a sentence like this:
Yes, I received the voicemail from Barbara, but I have no idea what she’s talking about.
It sounds okay—people talk like that all the time. Still, you can’t get your English teacher’s voice out of your head, so you try to rework the sentence without the “about” at the end.
Yes, I received the voicemail from Barbara, but I have no idea about what she is talking.
Now the sentence sounds weird. You have never heard anyone speak that way or write that way. You decide to try something else.
Yes, I received the voicemail from Barbara, but I have no idea what she’s referring to.
You think this sentence sounds a little more professional than the original, but there’s still a preposition at the end!
Sometimes it’s actually better to end a sentence with a preposition!
Despite what your strict grammarian English teacher might have taught you, you can end a sentence with a preposition. It is actually very common in spoken English and in more casual forms of writing like the examples above. Notice how you just read a sentence that ends with the preposition “above”. Your English teacher might not like it, but it’s correct.
Here are a couple of other examples with the prepositions written in boldface:
Javier just moved here from Mexico City, but I don’t know where Tina is from.
The printer never made that noise before.
I don’t smoke anymore, but I used to.
George is the guide we are traveling with.
Can they come over?
There is nothing to worry about.
What is the dog barking at?
This is the package we have been waiting for.
You could rewrite the above sentences so that there are no prepositions at the end, but most of the alternatives would sound stuffy and unnatural. Your strict grammarian English teacher might prefer sentences such as “This is the package for which we have been waiting” or “George is the guide with whom we are traveling”. However, the sentences with the preposition at the end work much better for spoken English or for ordinary, everyday written communications. If you think the sentence sounds better with the preposition at the end, go ahead and put it there!
Although the example sentences in the previous section are fine for most contexts, it is usually better to avoid ending sentences with prepositions if you are writing a highly formal text, such as a cover letter, a research paper, or an email that needs to go above and beyond “business casual”.
In the table below, you will see some example sentences that are more formal than the ones we looked at earlier. The sentences on the left side have prepositions at the end, but they sound awkward or too informal. For sentences like these, it is better to rework them so that there isn’t a preposition at the end. You will find some examples of how to do this on the right.
|Preposition at the end
|No preposition at the end
|The amount of water in the sample was 50% less than before.
|The amount of water in the sample was 50% less than what had been measured previously.
|Pride and Prejudice is the novel Jane Austen is best known for.
|Jane Austen is best known for her novel, Pride and Prejudice.
|Could you please tell me if Henry Robinson is the person I should send an email to?
|Could you please tell me if Henry Robinson is the person to whom I should send an email?
|The project is something we can all contribute to.
|The project is something to which we can all contribute.
|Which journal was your article published in?
|In which journal was your article published?
When your English teacher is right…
So far, we have focused on whether a sentence sounds better with or without a preposition at the end, and we looked at some examples of each type. Now we are going to look at sentences that really are grammatically incorrect because they have a preposition at the end.
I had difficulty determining where the error message originated from.
Where is Clara going to?
In both of these sentences, the preposition is an extra word that doesn’t need to be there. The sentences are correct and complete without them.
It can be tough to decide when it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition and when you should make a different choice. This is especially true if English is not your first language and you aren’t sure if something sounds better one way or the other. If you need some help from a native English speaker, click the blue box below.
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