How We Get to “Where Is It At?”
Seen in that context, questions such as “Where are you at?” don’t stand out quite so much. Now we can also say that if you start to ask a “where” question and accidentally use a weak or cliticized form of “is” or “are,” you’re going to have a goofy-sounding sentence unless you find something else to finish it. “Where’s it?” and “I don’t know where you’re” are just going to confuse your listeners. The “at” can be seen as a rescue device to save the sentences, to turn them into the much more acceptable “Where’s it at?” and “I don’t know where you’re at.” We still don’t recommend “Where’s it at?” but understanding the pronunciation problem may help explain why some people say it.
All this still doesn’t quite answer Rob’s question of exactly why this rule of no weak prepositions or auxiliary verbs at the end of a phrase should be in effect. I don’t have an answer for that, and if any linguists out there know of some research that’s been done on this question, please leave a comment telling us about it. Whatever the reason, though, it’s still one of those interesting language rules that speakers follow unconsciously—or in Rob’s case, consciously.
This podcast was written by Neal Whitman, who has a PhD in Linguistics, blogs at LiteralMinded.Wordpress.com and is a regular columnist for the online resource Visual Thesaurus.
Huddleston, Rodney, and Pullum, Geoffrey K. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. 2001. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1603-1604.