Why It's Not Wrong to End a Sentence With a Preposition

preposition superstition
Like black cats, magpies, and broken mirrors, the belief that it's wrong to end a sentence with a preposition is nothing more than a silly superstition. David Seed Photography/Getty Images

Is it grammatically incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition? Quite simply, no. A preposition is not a bad word to end a sentence with. Even in our grandparents' day, a preposition was not a bad word to end a sentence with.

But ask a few of your friends or colleagues if they remember any rules of English grammar, and almost certainly at least one will say, with confidence, "Never end a sentence with a preposition."

Editor Bryan Garner wasn't the first to call that "rule" a "superstition":

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. But Latin grammar should never straitjacket English grammar. If the superstition is a "rule" at all, it is a rule of rhetoric and not of grammar, the idea being to end sentences with strong words that drive a point home. That principle is sound, of course, but not to the extent of meriting lockstep adherence or flouting established idiom.
( Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press, 2009)

For over a century even hard-core prescriptive grammarians have rejected this old taboo:

  • The Language Instinct (1902)
    Some teachers and some textbooks maintain that a sentence should never end with a preposition or with any other insignificant word. "A preposition," said a college professor to his class, is a bad word to end a sentence with." If his practice had squared with his theory, he would have said, "A preposition is a bad word with which to end a sentence"; but his instinct for language was stronger than his doctrine.
    (Adams Sherman Hill, Beginnings of Rhetoric and Composition. American Book Company, 1902)
  • A Senseless Old Tradition (1918)
    The old tradition has been handed down, and in the schools of today teachers religiously insist upon the rule, "Never end a sentence with a preposition." The schoolboys' Anglo-Saxon language-sense rebelled at this, and they paraphrased the rule into "Never use a preposition to end a sentence with." And the schoolboys' instinct was right. There never was any sense in the "rule," and people go on using the prohibited idiom every day.
    (James C. Fernald, Expressive English. Funk & Wagnalls, 1918)
  • Unstrained Sentences (1920)
    Unless emphasis is sought, do not strain to keep the often-prescribed rule that no sentence should end with a preposition. Ending a sentence with a preposition does not necessarily weaken a sentence.
    (George Burton Hotchkiss and Edward Jones Killduff, Handbook of Business English. Harper & Brothers, 1920)
  • A Cherished Superstition (1926)
    It was once a cherished superstition that prepositions must be kept true to their name and placed before the word they govern in spite of the incurable English instinct for putting them late. . . . Those who lay down the universal principle that final prepositions are "inelegant" are unconsciously trying to deprive the English language of a valuable idiomatic resource, which has been used freely by all our greatest writers except those whose instinct for English idiom has been overpowered by notions of correctness derived from Latin standards.
    (A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Henry W. Fowler. Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1926)
  • The Custom of the Language (1953)
    In some expressions the preposition is by the custom of the language forced to the end.
    (G.H. Vallins, Better English. Pan, 1953)
  • A Durable Superstition (1983)
    Note that it is permissible to end a sentence with a preposition, despite a durable superstition that it is an error. He told me where to stand at is an error, but not because the preposition at is at the end; at shouldn't be in the sentence at all.
    (Edward D. Johnson, The Washington Square Press Handbook of Good English, 1983)
  • John Dryden's Maxim (1996)
    It was John Dryden, the 17th-century poet and dramatist, who first promulgated the doctrine that a preposition may not be used at the end of a sentence. Grammarians in the 18th century refined the doctrine, and the rule has since become one of the most venerated maxims of schoolroom grammar. But sentences ending with prepositions can be found in the works of most of the great writers since the Renaissance. In fact, English syntax not only allows but sometimes even requires final placement of the preposition.
    (The American Heritage Book of English Usage. Houghton Mifflin, 1996)
  • A Pointless Worry (2002)
    We also have evidence that the postponed preposition was, in fact, a regular feature in some constructions in Old English. No feature of the language can be more firmly rooted than if it survives from Old English. . . . The preposition at the end has always been an idiomatic feature of English. It would be pointless to worry about the few who believe it is a mistake.
    (Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage, 2002)
  • An Antiquated Superstition (2004)
    Contrary to popular belief, it is not a mortal sin to end a sentence with a preposition, as long as the sentence sounds natural and its meaning is clear. . . . It is absolutely antiquated to forbid ending a sentence with a preposition.
    (Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas, The Grammar Bible, Henry Holt and Company, 2004)

Now that should be the end of it, right? But just try convincing that friend of yours.