Ending with a Preposition

Examine placement options

A mismatch on a date
 

 

Final Preposition in a Wh-Question

INFORMAL

Informal and formal English places a preposition at the end of a sentence. When a question word is the object of a preposition, the preposition most often occurs at the end of the sentence (or clause). 

QUESTIONS

Who is a dating service for?

Who did you give your number to?

What kind of hobbies are you interested in?

What does she look like?

Where do you come from?

What are you concerned about?

Which card did you pay with?
 

SHORT QUESTIONS

What for?   (expression)  purpose

Who for(expression)  recipient

Where to(expression)  toward a direction

What with(expression)  means or method, or tool
 

EMBEDDED QUESTIONS

Can you tell me what you are looking for?   (phrasal verb)

Do you know who she is talking to?  

Do you have any idea what this is for?    purpose

Please let me know which person you are interested in?  (verbal + PP) 
 

FORMAL

Some speakers prefer the preposition to be placed before the WH- question word, at the beginning of the sentence (or clause).   (Note that an intimate or personal question is unlikely to be phrased formally unless it is asked in a court of law.).

QUESTIONS

For whom is a dating service?  very formal

To whom did you give your number?  very formal

In what kind of hobbies are you interested? very formal
In which kind of program are you interested? 

Like what does she look?  not used

From where do you come?  extremely formal  

About what are you concerned?  (This is awkward because it is an personal question with formal phrasing.)

With which card did you pay?  informal and formal usage  (with tends to be place before the wh- pronoun.)

SHORT QUESTIONS

For whatvery formal

For whom? very formal

To where? very formal

With whatvery formal

EMBEDDED QUESTIONS

Can you tell me for what you are lookingawkward

Do you know to whom she is talking

Do you have any idea for what this is? not used

Please let me know in which person you are interestedawkward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Preposition

In a Statement

 

 

 

Statements

INFORMAL

Final prepositions also occur at the end of sentences with infinitive or passive grammatical structures.                  

INFINITIVE STRUCTURES

This is a pleasant city to live in

These were delightful people to talk with
 

PASSIVE VOICE

He likes to be looked at.  (infinitive)

He likes being looked at.  (gerund)

She likes to be doted on

She hates being fussed over.  (e.g., an actress)

She was operated on.

This chair is new. It hasn't been sat in. 
 

FORMAL

A sentence in which one avoids a terminal preposition can be restated by adding a clause with the relative pronoun as the object of the preposition.

INFINITIVE STRUCTURES

This is a pleasant city in which to live.

These were delightful people with which to talk. (or with whom)

ACTIVE VOICE

He likes to be the guy at whom someone looks.

He likes being the guy at whom someone looks.

She likes to be the woman on whom someone dotes.

She hates being the one over whom people fuss.

She is the woman on whom the doctor operated.

This is a chair in which no one has sat.

 

dote (v.) — attend to someone's needs in an attentive manner (positive meaning)

fuss (n.) — attend to someone's needs in an annoying manner (negative meaning)

 

 

 

 

 

Final Preposition

Omitted

 

 

 

Formal vs. Informal Omission of a Preposition

FORMAL – PREPOSITION INCLUDED

In more formal speech and writing, the preposition is included.

BEFORE WHICH

On which day are you meeting?   We are meeting on Tuesday. 

At which time is your meeting?   My meeting is at 1p.m.

For how long will you be visiting? I'll be visiting for a week.

REPHRASED

I'll pick you up at approximately 9:30.  (rephrase about with approximately)

We're going to downtown. (not used)

NOUN + PREPOSITION + WHICH + INFINITVE

I have no money with which I can buy food.  

We have one day in which to do it.   We will do it in a day.

I need a pen with which I can write.

He needs a place in which he can live. 

WITH PARTICULAR WORDS

I am staying at home. / I'm going to home. (Uncommon in Eng-US)

Lets go to some place tonight. (Uncommon in Eng-US)

INFORMAL – PREPOSITION OMITTED

Informal English drops the preposition in these examples

IN COMMON QUESTIONS

What day are you meeting? 

What time is your meeting?

How long are you visiting?

BEFORE ANOTHER PREPOSITION

I'll pick you up about 9:30.

We're going downtown. 

NOUN + INFINITIVE + (PREPOSITION)

I have no money to buy  the food (with)

We have one day to do it (in)

I need a pen to write (with)

He has to have a place to live (in)

WITH PARTICULAR WORDS (not in final position)

I'm staying (at) home. /  I'm going (to) home.  (Eng-US)   (with home)

Let's go (to) some place tonight.   (with some place)
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Preposition

In a Modifying Clause

 

 

 

In a clause with a verb followed by a preposition

CAN END A CLAUSE

A verb paired with a preposition (e.g. worry about, play against, depend on, approve of, etc.) may often occur with the preposition left at the end of the clause.   See Verb+Prep Gerund for a list of such verbs.

THE PREPOSITION AT THE END

A service —  that people depend on — should be on time.
move rightthat begins the clausemove rightthat begins the clause

Show me the person — you wrote about(who is optional)

The person—I am interested in — doesn't want to talk to me.  (who is optional)

Can you tell me — what kind of person you are interested in?

Who knows — what my ideal person should be like.   

This is what I was worried about.
 

CAN MOVE FORWARD

Some speakers favor moving the preposition of the verb phrase in front on the relative pronoun (that, which, who, whom).

THE PREPOSITON AT THE BEGINNING

A service — on which people depend on— should be on time.
move right move the word forward

Show me the person — about whom you wrote.

The person— in whom I am interested— does not want to talk to me.
 

Can you tell me — in what kind of person you are interested? awkward sounding

Who knows — like what my ideal person should be. awkward sounding

This is — about what I was worried.  awkward sounding

 

Related pages: All of which  |  Verb Phrases + Gerunds  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Preposition

In a Modifying Clause with a Phrasal Verb

 

 

 

Do not separate phrasal verbs ("two-word verbs")

CAN END A CLAUSE

A phrasal verb is a verb with one or two prepositions – all together they form a new meaning.  These words cannot be separated, so the preposition must be left at the end of a clause or sentence. 

Clothing — which people try on — should be hung up afterwards.
move rightthat begins the clausemove rightthat begins the clause

The word — that you looked up — is not in my dictionary.

This is a crime — that you won't get away with.
 

CANNOT MOVE FORWARD

Phrasal verbs cannot be separated.  The preposition / particle must be left at the end.  (e.g. look out, look over, get up, get off, have out, get on with, put up with, take off, etc.)                                             

Clothing — on which people try   — should be hung up afterwards.  (not used)

The word — up which you looked — is not in my dictionary.    (not used)

This is a crime — away with which you will not get.   (not used)

 

Note: Supposedly an editor had clumsily rearranged one of Churchill's sentences to avoid ending it in a preposition, and the Prime Minister, very proud of his style, scribbled this note in reply: "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put."  

Also see Phrasal Verbs "two-word verbs".

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

Where is it at?    unspecific use of a final preposition

Where's it at? (slang expression) – where is the action, excitement, or the cool stuff happening 

SOLUTION

Where is it?   (omit the unnecessary preposition)

In which room is it?  In which city is it?

On which shelf is it?  On which street is it?

At which door is he?   At which address is he? 

Place the preposition before "which".  : in, on, or at.  Prepositions of Place 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional and Linguistic Description

 

 

 

TRADITIONAL DESCRIPTION LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION
MERRIAM-WEBSTER HUDDLESTON

The question of the correctness of a preposition at the end of a sentence or clause is one which has been under discussion for more than three centuries.  As is not the case with some of the other long-lived topics examined in this book, recent commentators — at least since Fowler 1926 — are unanimous in their rejection of the notion that ending a sentence with a preposition is an error or an offense against propriety.  Fowler terms the idea "cherished superstition." and not only do the commentators reject the notion, but actual usage supports their rejection.  So if everybody who is in the know agrees, there's no problem, right?  Wrong.   It is not clear how the terminal preposition became an error.  The structure does not exist in Latin. (Merriam-Webster 763)

 

Instead of being dismissed as unsupported foolishness, the unwarranted rule against stranding [ending with a preposition] was repeated in prestigious grammars towards the end of the eighteenth century, and from the nineteenth century on it was widely taught in schools.  The result is that older people with traditional educations and outlooks still tend to believe that stranding is always some kind of mistake.  It is not.  All modern usage manuals, even the sternest and stuffiest, agree with descriptive and theoretical linguists on this… (Huddleston 627)

BURFIELD (FOWLER) QUIRK / GARNER

Preposition at end. (a) History of attitudes.  One of the most persistent myths about prepositions in English is that they properly belong before the word or words they govern and should not be placed at the end of a clause or sentence.  (Fowler goes on to cite several examples in the history of the "myth".)  3 Final Verdict.   In most circumstances, esp. in formal writing, it is desirable to avoid placing a preposition at the end of a clause or sentence, where it has the appearance of being stranded. But there are many circumstances in which a preposition may or even must be placed late, and others where the degree of formality required governs the placing. (Burchfield 619)

 

A prejudice against such deferred (or 'stranded') prepositions … remains in formal English which, for direct or indirect questions and for relative clauses, offers the alternative of an initial preposition.  The alternative construction is often felt, however, to be stilted and awkward especially in speech.  In some cases, such as the following, the deferred preposition has no proposed alternative… (Quirk 9.4)

 

"The spurious rule about not ending sentences with prepositions is a remnant of Latin grammar, in which a preposition was the one word that a writer could not end a sentence with." (Garner 654)

Correct and Natural — "people worth talking to"
Correct and Stuffy — "people to whom it is worth talking" 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Advice on Visiting Athens

information booth
 

 

Read the Paragraphs (with terminal prepositions)

When traveling to a city such as Athens, Greece, you may find yourself wandering through its streets and not knowing where you are going to. The old part of Athens called "the Plaka" has a number of little streets leading in and out. Half the time you won't know the direction you are walking in.

Fortunately, Athens has a lot of little kiosks called "peripteros" with vendors to help you out. Periptero vendors usually know the city pretty well and can show you a map and point to the place you are looking for. Also, inside a periptero, you can find drinks, snacks, icecream and almost anything you are in need of. For example, you can find a sun-brella, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect your skin with.

You can even find such things as a deck of cards, a toothbrush, aspirin, or hand-sanitizer to clean your hands with. In the past, peripteros had public phones to make calls on. However, this service was discontinued since most people carry mobiles to make calls with. 

Most locals (Greeks living in the Plaka) are happy to help you find your way provided that you have a map to point to. Otherwise, their instructions in Greek might not be easy to make out. If you should find yourself lost, take a break, find a little café, and order a drink to refresh yourself with. Relax and look around at the scenery that you are surrounded by.

kiosk (n.) – a small structure having one or more sides open, used as a newsstand, refreshment stand, bandstand, information or security center

make out (phrasal verb) – interpret or understand  I can't make out his handwriting.

periptero (n.) – a small portable store on the sidewalk of a Greek city that sells small, commonly requested items

provided that – as long as; under the condition that

vendor (n.) – a person who works in the kiosk, usually the owner

 

 

 

 

Can the terminal preposition be repositioned in the clause—yes or no?

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or the "check 1-14" button.
1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Commonly Heard

 

 

 

Read the Conversation

What's up? 

Not much.  We're going to take off.

Where are you off to?

There's a pick-up game down in Mid-town.

Where's it at?

Those basketball courts with the name I can't think of.

OK.  I'll catch up with you later. I have something I have to check out.

 

 

 

 

Formal or Informal?

  1. Select a response correct or incorrect.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 11-20" button at the bottom, or click the "Check" button to the left  as you go.

 

15.
What's up?

     

16.
Not much.  We're going to take off.

     

17.
Where are you off to?

     

18.
Where's it at?

     

19.
Those basketball courts with the name I can't think of.

     

20.
OK.  I'll catch up with you later. I have something I have to check out.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

Match Maker

Hearts Entwined
 

 

Read the Paragraphs (with terminal prepositions)

Match Maker is a website that is good for finding a relationship. 

First, you have to write a personal profile that will interest the kind of person you want to appeal to. The profile consists of your picture and brief description of yourself.  You shouldn't make things up!  You should include things that you are interested in. It helps to include things engage in, specialize in, and believe in. It also helps to include things you don't care for.

Then, Match Maker will return a list of people that match up. After you read their profiles, you can decide whom you want to get in touch with.

You can send a person a "wink".  If the person winks back, then messages can be exchanged.  You can talk about whatever you want to talk about. If there is a connection, the two people can agree to meet up. Otherwise, they continue on.

A person can return to Match Maker several times to find the person s/he is dreaming of.

That's how I found my bride, whom I am devoted to.

appeal to (verb + prep combination) – interest, cause to be interested

bride (n.) – female that one intends to marry or has recently married

devote (v.) – give one's full attention to something

engage in (verb + prep combination) – be active in ; (e.g., hobbies, charities, sports)

get in touch with (phrasal verb) – contact

make up (phrasal verb) – invent (lie)

specialize in (verb + prep combination) – have particular skills and do well

wink (v. / n.) – close an eye with the intention of flirting

 

 

 

 

Practice repositioning the preposition.  Remove the final preposition from the "terminal position" (end).

Though it is acceptable to leave a preposition at the end of a sentence, the wording can be changed if the context or formality requires it.

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 21-30" button.

 

21.
First, you have to write a personal profile that will interest the kind of person you want to appeal to.  


22.
The profile consists of your picture and brief description of yourself. You shouldn't make things up!  You should include things that you are interested in.


23.
It helps to include things you engage in, specialize in, and believe in. It also helps to include things you don't care for.


24.
Then, Match Maker will return a list of people that match up.


25.
After you read their profiles, you can decide whom you want to get in touch with.


26.
You can send a person a "wink". If the person winks back, then messages can be exchanged. You can talk about whatever you want to talk about.


27.
If there is a connection, the two people can agree to meet up.


28.
Otherwise, they continue on.


29.
A person can return to Match Maker several times to find the person s/he is dreaming of.


30.
That's how I found my bride, whom I am now devoted to.