Friday, August 2, 2013

Grammar Myth: Don't End a Sentence with a Preposition

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

You all know me. Grammar: not my thing. But I've tried hard to learn what I needed to learn so that I could write books. Grammar Nazi's likely find my books riddled with grammatical errors, and there isn't much I can do about that. But I try. I really do. And then I try to explain it to others, which might be like the blind leading the blind, but ...

Like I said, I try.

When I first started writing, someone told me, "Don't end sentences with a preposition." And I was like, "Huh?" And when I started freelance editing for a publishing house, that rule was on their list too. So I did it because I was told to. (I used to be such a good little rule following writer, way back when.)

But then I got tired of all the rules because I was following them so closely that my writing sounded weird. Sometimes people don't speak grammatically correct. Most the time, actually. And while I wanted to write a book that was readable, I also wanted it to sound somewhat normal to my readers.

So why do people say not to end a sentence with a preposition? There are a couple reasons.

1. Because a preposition is a word that joins with a noun phrase to create a modified phrase. They mostly have to do with Time Lords and space, err, I mean time and space. My bad. Here are some examples:

in the movie theater
at the restaurant
above the clouds
with a pinch of salt
after my afternoon class
by the bathrooms
across the train tracks
over the river
before the bell rings
since he walked into the room

They tend to come before the modified phrase, so if you end a sentence with one, well, how does your reader know what you're trying to modify? The thing just dangles there at the end of the sentence and confuses everyone.

2. Because it's a rule that we do because we've always done it, therefore it must be right. Right?

Not always. 

Because here's the thing. When you're writing a book, it's important that your writing sounds normal. And even though the following sentences are grammatically correct, who talks this way?

Of whom are you speaking?
With whom did you want to go?
On what did you write?

Even though the following sentences are technically incorrect, grammar wise, they sound correct, and most grammarians wouldn't bat an eye at them.

Who are you talking to?
Who do you want to go with?
What did you write on?

See what I mean?

Now, if you've written a sentence that has a preposition just dangling there on the end and it's completely useless, delete it! Go with the rule of "deleting unnecessary words" on this one. For example:

Where is Uncle Mike at? ---should be--- Where is Uncle Mike?
That's where it's at. ---should be--- That's where it is.

Now, if you're writing a character who has terrible grammar and is uneducated, perhaps you want his dialogue to sound like this: "Where Uncle Mike at? Hey, where you at, Uncle Mike?" And then your character finds a plate of brownies, eats one in a single bite, and over a full mouth says, "Now, that's where it's at."

I think that's awesome.

So, to recap, ending a sentence with a preposition is okay as long as the sentence reads well or your character has terrible grammar. But for characters who speak normally, if things sound odd, they probably are. Try deleting that last word or rearranging the sentence for a better flow.



  1. This is a grammar rule I gleefully ignore too--in anything but historical dialogue between educated people. =) There, I make myself obey it because it lends a certain authentic voice to them. But seriously. Otherwise? I'll put my prepositions wherever I please, thanks. ;-)

    1. I just went to +1 your comment and was momentarily baffled at here the button had gone...too much google plus

  2. Ah, this makes sense! I was only asking Mime the other day why we this is a rule. I figure, in dialogue you can throw a lot of rules out the proverbial window. Thanks for this post, Jill!

  3. awesome post! i never thought about it that way... this is soooo what i will be referring to now! i love this idea, and so need it! honestly, i would like to end with prepositions, but maybe i shoudnt........

    abrielle lindsay

  4. Sweet! I use words like dunno, gotcha, gonna, ain't whaddya, and more in my dialogue. It depends on what the situation is, but does that rule apply to this too??

    1. I think so. :) The whole point of dialogue is that it's people speaking...and you want it to sound real, otherwise your readers aren't going to take the story seriously. So, I'd say...yup! Go ahead and have your characters talk like you do.

      (I hope Jill doesn't mind me replying to this...:P)

    2. Thank you! That's pretty much what I thought but I wanted some other writers thoughts too. I actually almost started to write with the perfect grammar and I didn't like it. I don't like to read it either! But thank you again!

  5. When you said "who talks like that, anyway?" it just kind of made me laugh inside, because I do. :P Sometimes I get in this mood and I just like to walk around talking in super-weird-but-grammatically-correct sentences.

    But most of the time, I at least try to act normal. And I almost always try to have my characters speak normally when I'm writing. :P Thanks for a helpful post!

  6. Nice post, as always. I've been sort of worried about this, but what you said makes a lot of sense. Aside from Olivia up there *waves*, no one really talks like that, and especially when they've lived on the streets most of their life, like in my story.

    Speaking of my story, I'm starting on my macro edit today!!! Wish me luck, everybody!


      (it better not eat this comment.......)

  7. I feel the same way. Unnecessary dangling prepositions, though . . . *frowns*
    One of my middle school teachers had a habit of telling us about whatever we'd be doing that day, and then finishing with "and that's where we're at." It drove me crazy every single day.

  8. I tend to sound like Yoda when I try to rearrange my sentences so the prepositions aren't at the end. "Coming with, are they?"

    1. Made me laugh you did.

  9. Thanks so much! This was something I've been struggling with for a while...
    I must ask though: Have I found a fellow Whovian? :D

  10. I agree that almost no one speaks correctly anymore, but I AM a Grammar Nazi and it drives me nuts when people say "Where are you at?" or the like. I was grilled in correct grammar for at least six years of schoolwork. . . .