89 – Grammar shot: Prepositions at the end (busting a myth)

It’s been a long time, but my mammoth task is finally over: I have just finished revising my grammar book for British schools. This explains my silence, although some of you might have found it a welcome break from my ramblings. Although English grammar wouldn’t have changed since 2003, when my work was first published, I desperately wanted to improve the book. To paraphrase the well-known adage, the work of an inveterate reviser is never done!

And what an experience it was. First of all, whatever possessed me, all those years ago, to produce a book of 128,000 words? In the intervening period, I have done a great deal of writing (and an even greater deal of rewriting) and copy editing and have come to prize economy of expression. So I set about pruning, snipping, lopping, chopping off and paring down determinedly. By the time the operation was finished, some 45,000 words had disappeared – yet the book seemed none the worse for it. In fact, I sincerely hope that it has emerged enhanced. Naturally, I have made numerous other improvements, but that’s by the by. What matters is for teachers and students to get as good a deal as I’m capable of offering, and I’ve certainly done my damnedest. The book is now with my publisher, First and Best in Education; I’ll announce its publication with great fanfare. In the meantime, I’ll be posting grammatical and punctuation snippets from my oeuvre, the first coming right up. It aims to bust a popular myth that we mustn’t end sentences with prepositions. Utter nonsense! Here it is.

Busting a myth: prepositions at the end

(From my revised textbook: Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 & 4)

As the name ‘preposition’ (‘preceding position’) suggests, the preposition usually comes before its complement, although – in some cases – prepositions are placed at the end of sentences. It is thus a myth that we shouldn’t end sentences with a preposition, and people shouldn’t be fed this silly proscription. The examples below show that the end position is obligatory when the prepositional complement becomes the subject.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

He is interested in Rebecca.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

Rebecca is the girl he is interested in.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

I find it difficult to live with her.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

 She is difficult to live with.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

I am passionate about grammar.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

Grammar is what I am passionate about.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

Look at this view!

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

This view is worth looking at.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

You must comply with this rule.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

This rule must be complied with.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

You should always listen to sound advice.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

Sound advice should always be listened to.

A few other examples of prepositions commonly appearing at the end of sentences are given below.

What a state you are in!

That’s where I am at.

He has no savings to speak of.

Prepositions are also usually placed at the end of questions and sentences with reduced relative clauses.

Questions

What are you staring at?

Who is she waiting for?

Where are they going to?

Where do you come from?

What is he up to?

Who are they listening to?

Reduced relative clauses

She is the one he’s been waiting for.

This is the subject she is interested in.

That’s the person he lives with.

They are the ones you want to watch out for.

In a more formal register (style), many – though not all – similar sentences will have equivalents in which the preposition is placed before its complement. Such usage, however, is perceived by many as stilted and is rare in speech – apart, perhaps, from the last example.

For whom is she waiting?

To whom are they listening?

She is the one from whom he can’t bear to be parted.

That’s the person with whom he lives.

This is the subject in which she is interested.

In short, you may plonk prepositions at the end to your heart’s content!