What Is Reposition Stranding in Grammar?

Definition and Examples

In English grammar, preposition stranding refers to a syntactic construction in which a preposition is left without a following object. A stranded preposition most often appears at the end of a sentence. Also called preposition deferring and orphaned preposition.

Preposition stranding occurs in a variety of sentence constructions but primarily in relative clauses. It tends to be found more often in speech than in formal writing.

Examples and Observations

  • "I still don't understand why it's such a big deal about who she went to the prom with.”
    (Anthony Lamarr, The Pages We Forget. Antmar, 2001)
  • "Who was she mad at? That bratty baby?”
    (John Updike, Marry Me: A Romance. Alfred A. Knopf, 1976)
  • Which book did you find the answer in?
  • "I don't think we got set up; I know we got set up! I mean, really, seriously, where did all those cops come from, huh?"
    (Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs, 1992)
  • "I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about."
    (Oscar Wilde)

An Informal Construction

  • "When the preposition stays close to the verb, . . . we say that it is stranded, that is, displaced from its position in a PP [prepositional phrase]. The verb and the preposition stay together, with the stress usually on the verb. . . .

    "The preposition is often stranded to the end of a clause and is separated from the nominal. Stranding is typical of spoken English, while the non-stranded counterparts are very formal:
    What's this about? ('What' functions as a complement of about: about what?)
    Which book are you referring to? (To which book are you referring?)"
    (Angela Downing and Philip Locke, English Grammar: A University Course. Routledge, 2006)

    "A Silly Prescriptive Rule"

    • " Prescriptive manuals generally discuss preposition stranding in terms of sentences that end with a preposition, and some of the more old-fashioned ones still state that ending a sentence with a preposition is incorrect or at least inelegant. This is a case of a particularly silly prescriptive rule that is clearly and massively in conflict with actual usage. All fluent speakers of English use stranded prepositions, and most usage books now recognize that. . . . The truth is that the construction . . . has been grammatical and commonplace in English for hundreds of years."
      (Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 2005)