Go Ahead, End that Sentence with a Preposition

Is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition?  

I type this question into the google search bar and within seconds get a definitive answer in the third entry ( from Grammar Girl, always informative and reliable.)  I don’t even need to click on the link. The description on the search results page is very clear. Here it is:

Grammar Girl : Ending a Sentence With a Preposition :: Quick and …

www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/ending-a-sentence-with-a-preposition

Mar 31, 2011 – Ending a Sentence With a Preposition. … I know many of you were taught that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, but it’s a myth. In fact, I consider it one of the top ten grammar myths because many people believe it’s true, but nearly all grammarians disagree, at least in some cases (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

Scrolling down and looking at the other google-search results only confirms this conclusion. Grammarly,  The Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster all agree: the prohibition against ending a sentence with a preposition should be filed away and dismissed as myth.
So, go ahead. Write sentences like these–

There is nothing to be worried about.

My mother is the only person in the world I can rely on.

while knowing it is also correct to write sentences like these–

There is nothing about which to be worried.  (Correct but, who talks or even writes this way?)

My mother is the only person on whom I can rely. (Considerably less awkward, but unnecessarily stilted.)

 You Have Your Answer But with One Warning

You can close your computer and walk away from this post with 100% certainty that it is grammatically correct to end your sentences with prepositions. Case closed.

But before you go, let me issue one caveat:  You will find many people who still believe it is incorrect. Therefore, be mindful of your audience. As Grammar Girl cautions, avoid using prepositions at the end of a sentence in any high-stakes situation where you may be judged on your grammar, such as a job application or a standardized test.

Read on to learn more about prepositions and common errors in using them, as well as how prepositional phrases are used to great effect by poets

Remind Me. What Is a Preposition Again?

Prepositions are words and phrases used to indicate a relationship between two things. Those relationships may involve.

Space: e.g. in, on, under, around, between, among

Our books are scattered all over the floor.

Time: e.g. during, after, before

He ate dinner before the game.

Ownership: e.g.,  of, belonging to

That sister of yours is driving me crazy!

Amount: e.g., without, minus, plus, in addition to

What is ten minus eight?   (Bet you didn’t know this was a preposition!)

Similarity & difference: e.g.,  like, contrary to

She looks like a major league player when she throws.

Logical connections: e.g.,  because of, notwithstanding, despite

Despite our best efforts, we lost the game.

The way something is done: e.g.,  by, according to

He travels to school by bus.

 

Where Did this Myth (That It’s Wrong to End a Sentence with a Preposition) Originate? Why Does it Persist?

The story behind this myth is all over the internet (here’s one source) so I’ll keep my explanation brief. The myth originated with a rule from Latin grammar that some writers in the 17th and 18th centuries thought should be applied English. But although many words in English come from Latin, the reality is, English isn’t Latin. And the rule does nothing to enhance clarity and meaning in English.

It may seem odd that a myth so easily and widely dismissed would persist as this one does. But like any rumor or piece of misinformation, it can develop a life of its own. Sometimes efforts to squelch falsehoods only give them more strength. Indeed, studies have found that the more a myth or lie is repeated in an effort to debunk it the more it can be reinforced.  Here is a description of one such study published in 2007 in the Washington Post.  Fascinating read if you have time. We love to think we are logical, but the mind works in mysterious way.

Common Errors: Prepositions Aren’t Totally Problem Free…

Nothing in life is. The following are common problems. They are very small, but worth knowing about and avoiding.

Adding Unnecessary PrepositionsOften prepositions used in statements are incorrectly transported into the questions. The one below is probably the most common.

Correct:

The party is at my house. (Statement)

Where is the party ?    (The preposition at should be dropped in the question)

Incorrect:

Where is the party at?

Also, take care not to add a preposition that wasn’t even used in the original statement as in,

Correct:

I see you are going home.

Where are you going?

Incorrect:

Where are you going to?

When in doubt, go with what sounds right while privileging fewer words. This isn’t an iron-clad system, but it tends to work

 

Choosing the Wrong PrepositionAlso, there are a handful of prepositions that often get confused and misused. Here are the most common:

Between vs. Among.

One popular rule of thumb is to use between with two things but among with three or more things. But as the following examples show, correct usage is more nuanced. Note: all of the examples below are correct.

My little brother is the one standing between the tall kid with the glasses and the short one with a baseball cap.

My little brother is over there; he’s hard to see among his teammates.

There were problems brewing among the teammates.

The agreement negotiated between the Cardinals, the Giants, and the Diamond Backs about practice field use had to be revisited due to rain.

(Wait! There are more than two teams. See explanation below.)

Among tends to be used when there is an indeterminate number of indistinct individuals. When the individuals or items are identified (as in specific teams, countries, etc) between is favored. If you want to know more, go to this Grammar Girl article. She gives a great, in-depth explanation.

Different from vs. Different than.

The short answer is that from is a preposition and than is a conjunction. Remember, prepositions introduce only prepositional phrases, which don’t include a subject and verb. Conjunctions introduce clauses, which are essentially sentences (linked together with conjunctions) each with its own subjects and verbs. (Hope that makes sense!)

Correct:

My boyfriend is different from the rest.

My boyfriend knows more about baseball than I do. (than, as a conjunction, introduces a clause with a subject [I] and a verb [do])

The confusion comes when the verb is dropped in the clause that follows than, as in

My boyfriend knows more about baseball than I

Some people confusing than as a preposition, might commit this error, which in the panoply of grammar errors is among the most egregious.

My boyfriend knows more about baseball than me. ( To test this…add the verb back in. My boyfriend knows more about baseball than me do. EEK!)

Based on vs Based off of

Based on my informal, but pretty extensive, observations of usage among students, journalists, and people I interact with in the course of the day, I would conclude that based off of is winning the spoken language wars, especially among the under-thirty crowd.

But it is completely and utterly incorrect. Notice I started the previous sentence with the correct use, which is based on. To my ears based off of sounds so very wrong that I’m begging you not to use it, even though I know you probably will. In formal formal writing especially, remember to use based on.

Based in vs. Based out of

Same problem. In this case, based in is correct. I am a writer based in Northern California. I am not a writer based out of Northern California, a construction that suggests an odd relationship between me and my home base, sort of like I’m never home…???  Stick with based in. Simple, elegant, and descriptive.  I live in my home and in my town after all.  And so do you.

Poets Depend on the Prepositional Phrase

Let’s end on a positive note with the observation that prepositional phrases are, in fact, an amazing rhetorical tool. They add a rhythm to our words while at the same time building images. Let’s look at two poems where they are used to beautiful effect.

The Red WheelbarrowThis iconic poem (actually an excerpt from a longer poem) by William Carlos Williams, is essentially a series of repeated preposition phrases. One could even argue that his lines are actually about the prepositional phrase. Note the title. Look at the poem. Consider how prepositions hang from their sentences, depend on sentences. There is no single meaning to this poem, just an experience of images working together.

The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens

 

Where We Live. And finally, consider how contemporary poet, Matthew Dickman, also depends on prepositional phrases, especially in the opening lines, variations of which are repeated in the poem, to establish a place, a territory, a kind of home (in a mother, in a sunflower, on a sidewalk in the sunflower)  Indeed, the poem is titled, “Where We Live.”  It’s all about where.

Where We Live
For John Guare
I used to live
in a mother now I live
in a sunflower
Blinded by the silverware
Blinded by the refrigerator
I sit on a sidewalk
in the sunflower and its yellow
downpour
The light of  the world
beads up on one perfect
green leaf
It scribbles its name on every living thing then erases it so what’s left is more of a whisper than a mother
Here it’s spring
Over and over and over again
I used to live
in a cloud now I live
in a crow
It’s tiny and crippled in there but I can find my way to the bathroom in the dark if   I need to
All the windows
in the crow are left open
and let the clouds in
Back in
They float past my bed and have nothing to say
Hello it’s nice to meet you!
From a telephone pole
tongues slide out singing
welcome home
Welcome home they sing
I used to live
in a tree now I live
in a king
He waves his arms in front of   him and endless migrations of   birds disappear into his coat
I like to sit up inside
his crown eating sandwiches
and watching tv
Hills shake in the distance when he shuffles his feet
Floods when he snaps his fingers
I bow inside his brow and the afternoon stretches out
Orders more sandwiches
And sells the slaves
and sets the slaves free
and sells the slaves