What are your feelings on terminal prepositions?
Oh, this is an easy one. The “rule” against ending a sentence with a preposition is an age-old bugaboo.
Consider these perfectly natural English sentences:
- “Which pocket did you leave the keys in?”
- “What exit should I get off at?”
- “Here’s that store I told you about.”*
- “Please, come in.”
- “I didn’t see which street she went down.”*
- “No, that’s not the one I was thinking of.”
Someone even invented a sentence with five terminal prepositions: A little girl asked her father to read her a bedtime story, but when he came back upstairs with the wrong book she said, “What did you bring that book I don’t want to be read to out of up for?”
OK, so that one is a bit contrived, but you see my point. Prepositions at the end of sentences are extremely common and perfectly comprehensible, and attempts to “fix” them often backfire. For example:
- “In which pocket did you leave the keys?”
- “At what exit should I get off the highway?”
- “Here’s that store about which I told you.”
- “Please, come in here.”
- “I didn’t see down which street she went.”
- “No, that’s not the one of which I was thinking.”
- “For what reason did you bring up the book out of which I do not want you to read to me?”
Some of these examples are more laughable than others, but all of them result in stilted language or, at best, adding words for the sake of adding words.
In formal writing—a PhD thesis, a legal document—readers might expect you to avoid terminal prepositions, and so rather than fight with your boss and all the people who write you letters, you might give in. But know that they don’t have a leg to stand on, so you have my blessing to end a sentence with any damn thing you want.
And by the way, although it illustrates the point quite well to tell someone that this is the kind of pedantry up with which you will not put, please don’t attribute the phrase to Winston Churchill. That quote appears to be apocryphal.
Edit: The two asterisked examples were replaced after the post was originally published, for reasons I explained in a followup post.