Grammar 16


Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

You've heard me say it many times: Prepositions are always followed by a noun.

It seems logical, therefore, that we can't end a sentence with a preposition. If we did, it would feel like something is missing. Consider these examples:

For hundreds of years, grammar books stressed this point, and children were always taught: "You should never end a sentence with a preposition."

But sometimes people take rules too far, and they don't allow for the exceptions. The truth is that sometimes, ending a sentence with a preposition sounds perfectly natural, especially when asking a question.

Natural Way "Proper" Way

Where are you going to?

To where are you going?

Who are you going to the movies with?

With whom are you going to the movies?

Who should I give this paper to?

To whom should I give this paper?

Where are you coming from?

From where are you coming?

Today, most people ignore the old rule about never ending a sentence with a preposition. That said, if you want to sound very formal (or old-fashioned), you may want to keep this old rule in mind.

Grammar Humor

This grammar rule has become the subject of many jokes—jokes which dramatize the conflict between people who think we should follow the rule all the time, and people who don't know (or don't care about) the rule.

Here is an example of one such joke:

Two women are sitting on a bus. One woman asks the other: “Where are you going to?”

The other woman haughtily replies, “Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition?”

The first woman says, "I'm sorry. Where are you going to . . . bitch."

This next story is purportedly true.

The British statesman Winston Churchill was an excellent writer. Once, a woman criticized him for ending a sentence with a preposition.

He replied: "That is the sort of thing up with which I will not put!"

In case you didn't get it . . .

Churchill was mocking her by showing her how awkward a sentence can be if you try too hard not to end it with a preposition.

Of course, it would have sounded far more natural if Churchill had said, "That is the sort of thing I will not put up with!" (But technically, that would have been incorrect, since "with" is a preposition).

Here are some more preposition jokes. See if you can "get" the joke.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.