When drafting academic essays and dissertations, students sometimes ask whether ending a sentence with a preposition is correct. If this question resonates with you, read on. Below, you will find all the answers you need if you are unsure about ending a sentence with a preposition.
Definition: Ending a sentence with a preposition
Firstly, prepositions communicate relationships between times, places or other concepts.
The general rule regarding never ending a sentence with a preposition is perhaps a myth. In conversation and informal written English, there are various circumstances where ending a sentence with a preposition is not necessarily wrong; it may even sound more natural.1
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Ending a sentence with a preposition: When is it wrong?
In contrast, you should not use terminal prepositions in formal writing, such as research papers. In academic texts, we refrain from ending sentences with a preposition, not so much because it is a mistake but as a question of good style.
Scholarly writing follows more rigid conventions than conversation. Dissertations, essays, theses, and similar documents have more structure and should adopt a formal register. Therefore, ending a sentence with a preposition is inappropriate.
Using a preposition without an object
Phrasal verbs such as to stand up, sit down, get up etc., can give rise to involve ending a sentence with a preposition. Also known as stranded prepositions, they have no objects. Rephrasing is only sometimes necessary.
However, beware of incomplete prepositional phrases and, consequently, fragmented sentences. All sentences must have a subject and verb. If the verb is transitive, it requires an object.
How to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition
To avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, rewriting is often possible. We could reword the third example above to ‘I must get through all this homework.’
Where a sentence could have had a relative clause introduced with relative pronouns – i.e., who, whom, that or which – we can often use a relative clause with good results.
|They're the team I did the research with.||They are the team with whom I did the research.|
|The sixties is the era I'm focusing on.||The sixties is the era on which I'm focusing.
I'm focusing on the sixties.
|Literature is a topic William knows little about.||Literature is a topic about which William knows little.
William knows little of history.
Another approach is to shorten infinitive phrases.
|There is much to be thankful for.||There is much for which we should be thankful.||Although more formal, this is correct. We could also reword it to 'There is much to appreciate.'|
|There is nothing to be afraid of.||There is nothing to fear.||Rephrased.|
|Yesterday's game was put off.||Yesterday's game was postponed.
They postponed yesterday's game.
|Uses a verb of Latin etymology instead of a phrasal verb.
Changed from passive voice to active voice.
|The problem has been dealt with.||Management has dealt with the problem.||Changed from passive voice to active voice.|
Ending a sentence with a preposition: When is it acceptable?
Above, we have seen that ending a sentence with a preposition is acceptable in conversational questions. Other cases include informal communication and phrasal verbs in everyday spoken English.
- Where are you from originally?
- Who is she going out with?
- That’s the book I told you about.
The alternatives sound unwieldy and less natural:
- From where do you initially come?
- With whom is she going out?
- That is the book about which I told you.
Finally, various colloquial expressions end in prepositions. Though it is not necessary to change them, some alternatives at the end of sentences are:
Let your brother come too.
OR (Relatively uncommon.)
They should regain their composure/control themselves.
Why did you do that?
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Yes. In formal writing, eschewing terminal prepositions clarifies your prose and does not risk irritating your readers.
Why do most grammar experts and written work examiners dislike ending a sentence with a preposition?
Avoiding trailing prepositions usually prevents ambiguity in complex sentences. The resulting text is more precise and less informal.
The recommendation has its critics; some grammarians argue it is too arbitrary.
Common prepositions include in, at, on, by, through, under, over, to, of, out, around, about, for, before, after, up, down and between.
1 Mondragón, Laura. “Can You End a Sentence with a Preposition?” The Writing Cooperative. December 10, 2021. https://writingcooperative.com/can-you-end-a-sentence-with-a-preposition-14bbb3fe942b.