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Sunday, September 11, 2016

EwR Grammar - Ending a Sentence or a Question with a Preposition

IT IS TRUE!
A STATEMENT OR QUESTION 
IN ENGLISH "CAN" END WITH A PREPOSITION

Many of my second language students look at me with a surprised look when I speak to them in class and end a sentence or a question with a preposition.  When I ask them why they look so surprised most of them are not sure what to answer.  The student recognizes that they heard something that sounded strange to their ear, but they are not always quick to identify what it is.  The confusion is already obvious to me so I repeat my sentence until they recognize the preposition at the end.



Let's take a look at the following example.  If a student tells me that they recently took a trip somewhere, I might try to strike up a conversation with them and ask about their visit.  I might ask something like "what city were you in?; where did you eat at?; or what day did you return on?"  These three questions end with the prepositions "in", "at" and "on", respectively.

In order to understand the nature of using a preposition at the end of a sentence or a question we need to give consideration to (1) the meaning of a preposition, (2) the difference between its formal and informal language usage, and (3) the acceptability of placing a preposition at the end of a statement or an interrogation.  Let's begin our investigation about this topic. 


To start with, a preposition is a word that is usually used to demonstrate a relationship of either space or time between other words. For example, the first two questions that were mentioned above in the second paragraph ("what city were you in?" and "where did you eat at?") both end with prepositions of space, and the third question ("what day did you return on?") terminates with a time preposition. Included here is a list of some of the most common time and place (or space) prepositions.
 
Common examples of prepositions that are used to demonstrate placement in space include the words above, by and over. Examples of time prepositions are words like after, before and since.
 
Second of all, a difference in language formality exists depending on where you place a preposition in a sentence or a question. If you position a preposition at the beginning of a written or oral message, then the tone of this communication will sound formal. For example, if you want to ask someone what time they begin work, you might say, "At what time do you begin work every day?" This is a formal language usage of the preposition "at". Its use is correct, but it sounds sophisticated, prudish and stiff.

However, if you wanted to ask the same question, but in an informal way, you have two options. You could say, "what time do you begin work every day at?" or "what time do you begin work every day?"

 

If a preposition is placed at the end of the question, then this language usage is considered to be informal.
If the preposition is eliminated altogether, then a more colloquial language is being used.  A native speaker would probably not use the preposition at the end since it is not required.  On the other hand, they might choose to use it if they are interested in using communication that demonstrates correct modern grammar.

Remember that the initial or final placement, or elimination of a preposition determines the formality of the language communication that someone wants to convey.

Thirdly of interest regarding this topic is the acceptability of placing a preposition at the end of a statement or an interrogation. The debate about whether or not one can use a preposition to close a sentence or a question still continues among some grammarians and writers of English. The premise for this argument lies in the origin of a respected grammatical schoolroom rule that was established by early grammarians in the 18th Century. Schoolchildren during the 1700s were taught that it was bad grammar to place a preposition at the end of a sentence or question. This philosophy, however, is associated with Latin grammar. After more than three centuries, there are still many native speakers, writers and grammarians who hold fast to this old traditional rule. 

However, times have changed, and we now live in a world where the English language is constantly evolving to fit our more modern times.  More and more people are using place and time prepositions at the end of a statement or an interrogation.  The increase in the frequency of their usage in this way accounts for the rethinking of the old established rule.  There are actual cases of sentence structure today where it would be impossible to position a preposition in any other place except for at the end.  For example, it's inconceivable to write or say "I don't remember what I was looking for" without placing the preposition "for" at the end of this sentence.  Thus, you cannot say "I don't remember what for I was looking".  No one would say this who is a native speaker of the English language.  It is considered a grammatical error as of this date.

There is something to keep in mind when you see a preposition used in a phrasal verb.  (Remember that a phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and one or more adverbs or prepositions.)  Let's look at two examples of phrasal verbs, one with a preposition and another one with an adverb.

If a phrasal verb includes a preposition, then you cannot remove it since the meaning of the verb phrase is dependent on the usage of the preposition that it contains.  For example, let's consider the phrasal verb "look after" in the following sentence, "My big brother looked after me while our mom went to the supermarket".  This verb phrase consists of the verb "look" and the preposition "after".  You can't separate these two words from each other because together they form a unique grammatical pack which means "to take care of someone".  In other words, the example sentence above can also be written or said, "My big brother took care of me while our mom went to the supermarket".

If a phrasal verb includes an adverb, then the same situation occurs as in the previous example with the preposition.  For example, the two words in the phrasal verb "run across" are inseparable.  It's impossible to maintain its meaning to meet or encounter if the adverb "across" and the verb "run" are separated from each other.  Hence you can say or write, "My mom ran across our neighbor when she was at the supermarket", or its equivalent, "My mom met (encountered) our neighbor when she was at the supermarket".

In closing, it is perfectly alright to use a preposition at the end of a sentence or a question.  In today's modern world this usage is no longer considered a violation of the correct grammar rules that were established in the early 18th Century.  Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind who you are speaking or writing to since a difference in language formality exists depending on where you place a preposition in a sentence or a question.  There are many people who avoid using a final preposition in a sentence during  informal and colloquial language usages, and even more who impede the formal usage of putting a preposition at the beginning of a question.  The choice is yours, but it is of interest to consider who your audience is during your written and spoken communication.


 For example, a business person who prepares a lot of written correspondence (e.g., e-mail messages, letters, documents, proposals and reports) should always adhere to the use of correct English grammar rules.  And, since the debate still goes on about whether or not to use a preposition at the end of a sentence or question, formal writers and speakers of the English language should probably not practice this modern usage.

Therefore, if you are talking to a friend you might choose to ask them an informal question like "What city does your brother live in?", but if you are talking to a stranger you might ask the same question in a more formal way, "Your brother lives in what city?"  Understanding and intelligibility are not lost if you choose to use the formal question in place of the informal one.

Be careful to think before you speak to someone or write something because the language use that you employ sets the tone of your speech or writing.  You model the formal or informal language usage for your listeners and readers depending on your choice of words.

Obviously, if you were in a job interview, or writing a cover letter or curriculum vitae, you wouldn't use informal speech or writing; and thus, in this particular case, it would be better to avoid using a preposition at the end of a sentence or a question, and especially never at the beginning of a question.

Hence, consider who your audience is that you are writing to, or to whom you are speaking, before who choose to end a sentence or a question with a preposition.

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