Reposition Your Preposition

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Never end a sentence with a preposition! This is one of the first rules of writing you may have learnt in high school English. It is the one grammar rule that was always enforced, especially when writing essays. It is also one of the easiest rules to break, because sometimes a sentence just doesn’t sound right any other way. So the question at hand is whether or not this rule holds true today.

Ordinarily a preposition is placed in front of a noun, pronoun, noun phrase or pronoun phrase to give a sentence more direction, or to show where something is located or when something happened.

Prepositions are common words like: about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, as, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, but, by, despite, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, onto, out, outside, over, past, since, through, throughout, till, to, toward, under, underneath, until, up, upon, with, within and without.

Adding any of these words to the front of a noun helps to direct the noun, as in: under the bed, beside the chair, against the tree, without fear.

“The writer searched for his pen that was somewhere under the desk.”

Often we see, both in writing and in speech, sentences formed with a preposition at the end.

“Where are you off to?”

“Where do you work at?”

Both of these sentences sound good to the ear and everyone understands exactly what you are trying to say. Yet, both are grammatically wrong according to the rule. So how could you fix them?

“Where are you off to now?” This could be one fix. Or, “Where are you going?” This could be another.

“Where are you employed?” would probably be the best fix for the second sentence.

So when is it acceptable to break the rule? In dialogue, of course. Even in literary fiction it is acceptable for characters to talk like ‘real’ people. Genre and mainstream fiction is also very lenient about allowing the author to tell the story his or her own way. If your character in question is not from a formal background, they would be less believable if they always spoke in complete and correct sentences. So in this instance it would be preferable to place prepositions at the end of the character’s parts of speech.

However, using end of sentence prepositions is generally not acceptable in description prose. Most often, editors view them as a sign of a rank amateur. Editors believe in breaking rules also, but know that a good writer knows when it is acceptable and when it should be avoided.

Non-fiction writing is a bit stricter on this rule. At least, for most print magazines and periodicals. Here, editors are looking for crisp, clear writing. They want to know that not only do their authors have knowledge about the subject they are writing about, but that they also have great grammar skills. This means less work for the editor as they work to get the article in print.

The most relaxed venue to overlook this rule is when you are writing for the web. Webmasters and web publishers tend to like their articles to be user friendly. This means the articles are more conversational in tone and are often written in the common vernacular. End of sentence prepositions are common in web published documents, unless they are of a professional nature, i.e., medical papers, news stories, and white papers.

And the preposition is not alone. The terms preposition, postposition and circumposition can all be grouped under one heading – Adposition. Adposition is essentially an element that blends phrases into a sequence that our minds can more easily understand. Many of these sequences are common-day phrase fragments, like: in lieu of, as time permits, with respect to, in regard to, in spite of. Many of these fragments can be used to start a sentence, with the fragment giving reference to what is about to be disclosed in the remainder of the sentence.

“With respect to our earlier conversation, I propose a change to the contract.”

The English language is known as a living language. No rule is set in stone; no matter what your English teacher told you. The one thing every writer must remember though is before you can break the rules, you must know the rules. This means not only knowing the grammar rules of writing, but also knowing if the publication you plan to submit your work to follows the same rules. How do you find this out? By reading these publications to see what has been accepted from other writers.

Will the rule about end of sentence prepositions ever go away completely? Probably not, but as time passes, more and more editors will come to realise that people prefer to read words that sound the way they are spoken. Learning to accept an unacceptable placement of your prepositions will go a long way in making your writing more pleasing to the ear.


Kristy Taylor is a syndicated freelance journalist with articles and short stories strewn across all forms of media. She has written and published numerous books, and is the executive editor of KT Publishing, which encompasses several web sites. For free listings of short story competitions visit http://www.shortstorycompetitions.com

To contact Kristy, email her at mail@kristytaylor.com


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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