Is it ever OK to end a sentence with a preposition?
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is whether it’s acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition.
I know many of you were taught that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, but it’s a myth. In fact, I consider it one of the top ten grammar myths because many people believe it’s true, but nearly all grammarians disagree, at least in some cases (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). So before I lose you, let's back up. What is a preposition?
What Is a Preposition?
A preposition is a word that creates a relationship between other words. It's been said that prepositions often deal with space and time (1), which always makes me think of Star Trek. For example, the prepositions “above,” “by,” and “over” all say something about a position in space; the prepositions “before,” “after,” and “since” all say something about time.
When Can a Sentence End with a Preposition?
Here's an example of a sentence that can end with a preposition: What did you step on? A key point is that the sentence doesn't work if you leave off the preposition. You can't say, “What did you step?” You need to say, “What did you step on?” to make a grammatical sentence.
I can hear some of you gnashing your teeth right now, while you think, “What about saying, 'On what did you step?'” But really, have you ever heard anyone talk that way? I've read long, contorted arguments from noted grammarians about why it's OK to end sentences with prepositions when the preposition isn't extraneous (1), but the driving point still seems to be, “Nobody in their right mind talks this way.” Yes, you could say, “On what did you step?” but not even grammarians think you should. It sounds pedantic.