Ending a sentence in a preposition

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Try to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. This is not really a rule, but lots of people think it is. So, to ensure you don't annoy your readers, just avoid the situation. If rewording your sentence makes it sound too contrived, just go for it and end your sentence with a preposition. (Sometimes, the cure is worse than the "problem.")

Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

As a useful guideline, try to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. (However, as shown later in this section, there are several factors to consider.)

  • That is a situation I have not thought of.
  • (The word of is a preposition. Writers should avoid ending sentences in prepositions. This is because a preposition should sit before a noun or a pronoun.)
  • She is a person I cannot cope with.
  • (The word with is a preposition.)

  • It is behaviour I will not put up with.
  • (This example ends in two prepositions: up and with.)

Not a Serious Error

Where possible, you should avoid ending a sentence in a preposition. However, after shuffling the words so that the preposition is not at the end, the re-structured version often sounds contrived and unnatural.

  • That is a situation of which I have not thought.
  • (This version is grammatically more pure than the one above. In this example, the word of sits before which (a type of pronoun - see lesson Types of Pronouns.)

  • She is a person with whom I cannot cope.
  • It is behaviour up with which I will not put.
  • (This example sounds extremely contrived.)

Reword to Avoid

Often, the best solution is to re-word the sentence.

  • That is a situation I have not considered.
  • (There are no prepositions in this sentence, and it has the same meaning.)

  • It is behaviour I will not tolerate.

Leave the Preposition at the End

If the sentence sounds too contrived after it has been reworded, another option is to leave the preposition at the end of the sentence.
  • There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. (Oscar Wilde)
  • (This is an example of a sentence that should be left with the preposition at the end.)

If you cannot find an alternative without a preposition, you have a choice whether to leave the preposition at the end or to re-structure your sentence.

Some readers will frown at the first example below because it ends in a preposition. The second example sounds, for many people, too contrived.

  • She is a person I cannot cope with.
  • She is a person with whom I cannot cope.

Either can be used. There are no hard and fast rules on this subject. However, most grammarians would select option 1 when speaking but option 2 when writing.

Verbs like to cope with and to come up with are known as verbal phrases. It could be argued that these do not contain prepositions at all. It could be claimed that the words in a verbal phrase that look like prepositions are not prepositions, but just part of the verb. If that's true, then it should be okay to end a sentence with a verbal phrase, meaning this sentence would be fine:
  • It is a situation I cannot cope with.
This is not a safe position to adopt. Even though such words are part of a verbal phrase, they are still prepositions. More to the point, the only reason we try to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition is because a lot of your readers will consider it to be bad practice. In actual fact, this rule is a throwback from Latin and has no place in English grammar. The only reason we play the "don't end a sentence in a preposition" game at all is because everyone else does. So, this is not about being right. It's about writing a sentence which will definitely not irk your readers.

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