Myth: A Preposition is Not an Appropriate Word to End a Sentence With

By January 30, 2014Writing about Writing

It has been an upstanding rule in school settings for years. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point or another, only to be admonished by teachers, professionals, or fellow students who strictly follow the rule: Never end a sentence with the proposition. Ever.

But much to the dismay of grammarians everywhere, ending a sentence with a preposition isn’t grammatical sacrilege. It’s not even a legitimate rule.

Over three hundred years ago, poet, essayist and Latin scholar, John Dryden, established the “rule” for English, based in the standard that prepositions are never found at the end of a sentence in Latin. The criticism began when Dryden objected to his contemporary’s phrase, “the bodies that those souls were frightened.”

Dryden, however, failed to provide effective explanation for why a sentence should be structured to front the preposition, but given his reputation, the rule was rarely questioned, and his sentiments became a general “rule,” making its way into classrooms across the country even in the 21st century.

The logic for imposing this Latin rule in the English language does not hold any significance, despite its general acceptance among grammarians. A preposition is, in fact, an acceptable word to end a sentence with. English syntax sometimes even requires a sentence to end in a preposition, and even the greatest of writers have dared to “break” this fake “rule.” Dryden and his disciples did not take into account some of the awkwardness that can occur in speech following this “rule.”

For example, “What are you talking about?” sounds so much better than “About what are you talking?”

According to The Grammar Bible, “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.”

So go ahead, and let your prepositional freak flag fly! Just be aware that some are not ready to accept this “rule” as myth.