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Preposition Rule

I must inquire as to the dreaded “preposition rule.” I hear that it does not exist. I hear the story of Winston Churchill disproving the rule. I do not know what to think! Give me your intellectual input, por favor. Do we or do we not end sentences with prepositions?!

  • April 23, 2006
  • Posted by kurt
  • Filed in Grammar

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The Texan was vacationing in New York City and asked a passerby for directions to the nearest subway station, "excuse me, where's the nearest subway station at?" he asked. The passerby gave him a snotty look and replied, "never end a sentence with a preposition." The Texan retorted, "O.K., where's the nearest subway station at, asshole?"

A O April 23, 2006, 4:43pm

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The preposition rule is a strictly prescriptive grammar rule.

When people say that it doesn't really exist, I think what they mean is that in our heads -- internal grammar -- the rule does not exist. We can understand what someone means when they use prepositions at the end of the sentence; it is grammatical.

However, English teachers have been teaching that it's not "proper" for years. So, is it prescriptively grammatical in standard English? That's up to you to decide.

the.dialogue April 23, 2006, 11:20pm

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I concur with Maria. George Orwell gave "twenty rules for stylish written English". Number two: Prepositions are not words to end sentences with. Number twenty: Ignore any of these rules rather than commit a barbarity. If Orwell can do it, so can you and I. So, it depends. If it feels right do it. If it looks (or sounds) ugly, recast the sentence.

a.rankine April 24, 2006, 7:35am

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Actually, every single grammar book I have ever seen explicitly says that ending a sentence with a preposition is grammatically correct. They also say that it is a weaker form of speech/writing, but never "incorrect".

porsche April 24, 2006, 10:45am

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Who was it that said...

"Prepositions at the ends of sentences is something up with which I cannot put."


Prescriptive grammar can go too far.

(I know that put up with is a phrasal verb, and that's why it sounds silly, but it's just a joke.)

the.dialogue April 24, 2006, 4:12pm

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I think if you're speaking - say what will be understood. But writing is a higher form of communication and you should remember to include what your descriptors and modifiers describe and modify. But perhaps that's not where it's "at" in our society...

Glo April 25, 2006, 11:03am

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I have to wonder if this is a case where the word was invented for the pattern, and then the word became the rule: prepositions usually precede nouns, and therefore are called "pre-positions" and therefore have to be in a position previous to the noun. Just plain silly. Everyone ends sentences with prepositions, and no one thinks anything of it unless they want to. One of my rules of grammar is that nothing is a rule of grammar if the only time people notice it is when they're looking for it.

David Fickett-Wilbar April 25, 2006, 6:46pm

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The "up with which I will not put" quotation is ascribed to Churchill, although there seems to be doubt about the exact quotation, if any. See:

Richard April 26, 2006, 10:15am

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I don't know who A O is, but that joke was pretty funny. Kurt, if this is you, you are a nerd. If this is not you, sorry. And no offense to everyone else on here. :)

Nikki April 28, 2006, 2:19pm

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Get a girlfriend.
K thanks.

Mandy April 28, 2006, 6:02pm

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I may not be Kurt, but I sure am a nerd.

A O April 29, 2006, 10:18am

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yo..nikki and mandy.. shut the hell up . Kurt is a cool kid and you need to get a life, instead of going on these websites and calling people nerds and telling them to get a girlfriend..

K thanks.

brandon(comp nd lit) April 30, 2006, 5:19pm

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Writing is certainly NOT a "higher form of communication". This is precisely the sort of prescriptive nonsense that led to spurious rules such as "don't end a sentence with a preposition", or "don't use double negatives". Linguists talk about a little thing called "the primacy of speech". Spoken language had to exist before written language became an option. Linguists also talk about different contextual Englishes. If you are writing a formal assignment towards your degree, you will use a tighter style which may well avoid prepositions in sentence-final position, and will not use double negatives. On the other hand, writing a letter or email to a friend requires a less rigid English. These differences are largely determined by appropriateness, but there is undoubtedly a degree of showiness and snobbery involved.

As for the etymology of the word "preposition" - it does indeed derive from the fact that it is generally placed before its substantive. Compare the cognate construct in, for example, Hungarian (hazbol, haz = house, -bol = from), which is known as a postposition.

And it was John Dryden who first told us of the evils of prepositions at the end of a sentence, probably based on some specious analogy with Latin. The syntax of English allows for such usage, and if you analyse such sentences according to the rules of Generative and Transformational syntax, it works perfectly and even satisfies the "goes before its substantive" rule - but how and why I will leave as an exercise for the reader... ;-)

Dan May 1, 2006, 5:12pm

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I think the key is the disuse of two key words in modern speech: 'whence' and 'whither'. These two words helped us deal with the most common problem prepositions: 'from' and 'to'.

The classic example of "Put that back where it came from!" sounded ugly when you could just say "Put that back whence it came!".

But with 'whence' becoming old-fashioned and scarcely used, the only remaining option is "Put that back from where it came" which sounds worse (and even somehow counter-intuitive) than "Put that back where it came from!" and so we end up using the preposition at the end of the sentence.

Without the useful 'whence' the least ugly option is to break the rule (consider "Where are you from?" as opposed to "From where are you"). The same goes for 'whither' which is now expressed by ending the sentence with the preposition 'to'.

The third common problem preposition would be 'with'. Here the alternative of 'with which' is nowhere near as ugly or counter-intuitive and is probably the most used these days... but with the rule having to be broken so often due to the loss of 'whither' and 'whence' our ear is more used to prepositions ending a sentence and so it feels less ugly and so more acceptable.

Other such disused words as 'whereafter' and 'wherewith' (as in wherewithall) have also been satisfactorily replaced.


AndyA May 2, 2006, 4:14am

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Oh it just occurs to me that 'with' suffered from loss of cast structure in English too. 'Whom' is becoming old-fashioned and disused as with 'whence' and 'whither'.

So where "With whom are you going?" is replaced now by "Who are you going with?", this is much better than the ugly "With who are you going?".

Loss of case structure in English is a fact of the language's development. Fighting to retain 'whom' is as much of a lost cause as fighting to retain 'whence' I think... and without these key words, the preposition rule must also fall into disuse, I fear.


Anonymous May 2, 2006, 4:21am

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Actually, from someone who doesn't have any style manuals handy:

Are we really sure that this is even a *prescriptive* rule? That is, is it truly something most style manuals recommend? Or is it one of those "don't start sentences with a conjunction" types of things, that isn't really even part of anyone's *prescriptive* grammar, aside from a few misguided elementary school teachers and the former students they convinced?

I thought I remembered that the entire rule was a myth. But perhaps I'm confusing it with another one (like the conjunction rule).

Avrom May 3, 2006, 12:51pm

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Prepositions in English, whatever they may have started out as, have entered into new categories of speech. Many of them behave much like adverbs, and we wouldn't think twice about ending a sentence with an adverb, surely?

S Onosson May 17, 2006, 11:44pm

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Mandy, you could not get a date to senior prom.

Nikki, you are doing Model UN next year because you miss the smart people.

Brandon, thanks! You are rather cool.

^I knew the aforementioned people.^

A O, way to be! [This is one who I do not know.]

Kurt May 25, 2006, 8:44am

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You can re-arrange any sentence to remove a dangling prepostion, so by leaving one in your sentence it implies that you speak without carefully thinking first.

illuminatiscott June 15, 2006, 5:18am

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Maan man kaninyo day-a ano man ang kuon nyong preposition? Rigya sa mon... sa rum-an du lang ah.

Sorry, oh i miss the point.

Amy October 13, 2006, 6:01am

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Congrats, folks -- rarely have I seen a more good-natured and informative discussion!

Robert March 12, 2008, 4:43pm

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It's a zombie rule. No modern usage book recommends it, and yet, for some reason, many people believe they have to follow it.

John March 13, 2008, 5:05am

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I suggest you guys should follow what is right. You're all know that formally speaking, prepositions must not be at the end of the sentence but why youre not following it. Does it make any sense at all... Perhaps you guys should think again. OK? peaceman

nyx5m5 September 22, 2008, 9:04pm

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Oh by the way for all those who agree with my feelings.. you could also be mah friends cause we really have something greatly in common. I really like following rules...

nyx5m5 September 22, 2008, 9:07pm

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Not starting sentences with a preoposition is a latinate rule. English is a Germanic language. Germanic languages allow you to start sentences with preopositions. The preposition rule is a myth.

forestsageisasquirrel December 16, 2010, 2:59pm

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This is curative channel ; There will not be any pain if we keep track of the productive discussions afforded by scholars here.

Dr. Naquib June 28, 2011, 11:53pm

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Yes     No