“Proper” English is full of stumbling blocks, and chief among them is the sentence that ends in a preposition. For example, this question: Are sentences that end in prepositions really something to be wary of?
Truth told, it depends on the context in which you’re writing, but there are some rules to understand to better inform your decision if and when you feel it necessary to end your sentence with an as, of, for, or the hundreds of other words that fall in the grammatical grey area.
First, what’s a preposition?
Before we dive in, let’s define the term, courtesy of English standard-bearer Oxford English Dictionary:
A word or group of words, such as in, from, to, out of and on behalf of, used before a noun or pronoun to show place, position, time or method.
Those are the most common prepositions, and typically what we think of when the term comes to mind. But there are over 100 in the English language since there are many ways to demonstrate the place, position, time, or method employed by a noun.
Why is it so complicated?
Another vanguard of the English language, Cambridge University, points out the most commonly used other prepositions, which include about, beside, near, above, between, across, beyond, against, despite, onto, unlike, along, down, opposite, and many, many others.
A side note that’s worth discussing when you’re on the topic of prepositions: Prepositions often become conjunctions when they’re followed by a clause. Cambridge explains how this works:
When we use a preposition that is followed by a clause, it is functioning as a conjunction; when we use a preposition that is followed by a noun phrase, it stays as a preposition.
Not to confuse aspiring grammar snobs, the university provides an example of this rule at play:
We’ll just have to wait until they decide what to do. (conjunction)
OK, we’ll wait here until six o’clock. (preposition)
Of course, you can go pretty far down a grammatical rabbit hole if you’d like, but understanding the basics can provide you with enough to help your writing.
So is it OK to end a sentence with a preposition?
Basically, yes, it’s totally OK to end a sentence with a preposition, though you might want to avoid it in some more formal contexts. After all, in a less formal situation nobody is going to throw you in jail or judge you because you ended a sentence with “of.” And, as Grammarly points out, it’s all contingent on what you’re writing:
In emails, text messages, and notes to friends, it’s perfectly fine. But if you’re writing a research paper or submitting a business proposal and you want to sound very formal, avoid ending sentences with prepositions.
The two exceptions where prepositions are a no-no involves formal writing — like discussing a job interview or something else professional — or when you’re leaving something out of a sentence so your preposition is missing an object on which to apply place, position, time, or method.
Here’s Grammarly’s example of an incorrect sentence, using a preposition that lacks an object:
He walked down the street at a brisk pace, with his waistcoat buttoned against the cold and a jaunty top hat perched atop.
In this case, it leaves the reader with the question of “atop of what, exactly?,” which, yes, they could figure out, but the omission is enough to interrupt a reader’s flow of comprehension. In order to make the preposition “atop” grammatically correct, it needs an object to modify. Here’s the correct version:
He walked down the street at a brisk pace, with his waistcoat buttoned against the cold and a jaunty top hat perched atop his stately head.
In short, you can use a preposition to end your sentence, but it’s advisable to do so infrequently, as it can sound a little unnatural sometimes. Still, if it’s something you do on occasion in less formal settings, it’s really no biggie.