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
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?
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.