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Dear Editor: What Are the Rules for Prepositions?

—(Originally appeared in Publishers Weekly)— Let’s hear what our fearless leader and ace editor, Betty Kelly Sargent, has to say in response to a reader’s question about prepositions…Dear Editor: Can I use a preposition at the end of a sentence? —Xavier K. Yes, you can—most of the time. A preposition shows the relationship of a… [Read More]

How to use prepositions by Betty Kelly Sargent for BookWorks.com

—(Originally appeared in Publishers Weekly)—

Let's hear what our fearless leader and ace editor, Betty Kelly Sargent, has to say in response to a reader's question about prepositions...Dear Editor:

Can I use a preposition at the end of a sentence?

—Xavier K.

How to use prepositions by Betty Kelly Sargent for BookWorks.com

Yes, you can—most of the time. A preposition shows the relationship of a noun or pronoun to some other word in a sentence. This relationship usually has something to do with time, space, or location. Some examples of prepositions are at, by, for, on, off, in, out, over, under, and with.

An 18th Century Notion

Why do so many cling to the notion that one shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition? Robert Lowth, an 18th-century English clergyman, wrote a grammar book saying a preposition shouldn’t go at the end of a sentence. He probably based this on the word’s Latin origin, praeponere, which means “position before.”

The idea caught on. But, as with so many old and rigid rules of grammar, this, too, has given way to contemporary usage.

Contemporary Use of Prepositions

How to use prepositions by Betty Kelly Sargent for BookWorks.com“What did you slip on?” is a fine sentence. Why? First, the preposition is necessary to the sentence; it wouldn’t make sense without the preposition. Second, it would sound pretty odd to say, “On what did you slip?”

If rewording a sentence to avoid putting the preposition at the end makes it sound stiff or pedantic, don’t do it. But, if you prefer “There are some problems for which there are no easy solutions,” instead of, “There are some problems that there are no easy solutions for,” that’s fine, too.

But if the preposition is extraneous to a sentence—as in “Where are you at?” or “Where did the boys go to?”—eliminate it.


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