“I don’t know whom I’m going to give the role to.”
“That’s the ladder he walked under.”
“It was a foolish thing to argue about.”
“What should I end this sentence with?”
What indeed? These sentences all end with a preposition, something that makes many English teachers cringe. But why is this considered unacceptable?and what’s the current rule?
Surprise! Despite what you might think, ending a sentence with a preposition is not considered a grammatical error in the English language. Repeat: It’s not an error. In fact, It’s often preferable to placing preposition and object together, which can be overly formal and make your writing sound stiff and forced.
In Latin, It’s ungrammatical to end a sentence with a preposition. Not so in English, and many experts say that this pseudo-rule has always been an error. In fact, Fowler’s 1926 A Dictionary of Modern English Usage calls it a “cherished superstition.”
Regardless of its history, most grammarians agree that this “rule” has no place in today’s usage. “I don’t know to whom I’m going to give the role” may have been preferred one hundred or even fifty years ago, but now it sounds stilted (and, many would argue, obsolete).
Have it both ways
But although there is almost universal acceptance of this practice, some holdouts remain. If your professor or supervisor still frowns on ending sentences with prepositions, the solution isn’t necessarily to simply transpose the preposition elsewhere in the sentence and give it an object. In the interests of clear, concise writing, It’s usually better to rewrite the sentence to avoid the preposition entirely.
Let’s take a look at two of the sentences from the beginning of this article:
Example A: “I don’t know whom I’m going to give the role to.” This is perfectly acceptable in today’s usage, though some might object.
Example B: I don’t know to whom I’m going to give the role.” This is acceptable as well, but It’s a bit formal; rewriting the sentence would make it even stronger and more direct.
Example C: “I don’t know who should get this role.”
Example D: “What should I end this sentence with?” Again, this is grammatically correct. In fact, changing it to work with the “rule” can result in a stilted, awkward construction:
Example E: “With what should I end this sentence?”
It’s better to rewrite the question to avoid the issue:
Example F: “How should I punctuate this sentence?” Or, depending on the meaning of the sentence:
Example G: “Should I end this sentence with a period/exclamation mark/preposition?”
Once again, there is no grammatical rule that bars you from ending a sentence with a preposition. But if for some reason you are required to do so, don’t just link up the preposition and object if it’ll make the sentence stiff. Rewrite the sentence so it conveys the same meaning directly?and slip an anonymous tip under the superstitious grammarian’s door.
Christina M. Frey is a book editor and a lover of great writing. Chat with her on Twitter about all things literary @turntopage2. Or visit her website.