Grammar 101: Ending in a Preposition

There are some grammar rules out there that are easy to understand, because there is no debate as to whether you should use sale or sell, for example. However, there are other instances that stir up all kinds of controversy, because you have people on both sides of the debate regarding that particular grammar rule. One such example is whether it is appropriate or acceptable to end a sentence in a preposition.

Prepositions, as you may already know, are words usually used to introduce prepositional phrases that provide information about time, place, direction, or something similar. These are the words that tell you that a book is by an author, a car is on the street, and the game is in the bag. Since prepositions are typically followed by these prepositional phrases, most of us were taught in school that sentences should never end in a preposition. This is only partly true.

Some people say that this unofficial rule has only been perpetuated by pedantic grammar elitists and it is not a rule that we all have to follow all the time. In this way, it is similar to maintaining parallel structure in that it is more about writing style and ease of reading. Consider this famous example from Winston Churchill.

“That is the sort of thing up with which I will not put!”

Sounds terribly awkward, right? The sentence has been shifted and modified so that “with” is not the last word. Unfortunately, this makes the sentence harder to understand than if we were to write it like this instead:

“That is the sort of thing I will not put up with!”

Better? That’s what I thought. The same thing can be said about the remarks in the comic strip embedded above. Interestingly, these sentences aren’t technically ending in prepositions. In the strictest of senses, they’re ending in what are known as adverbial particles.

To put up with something is not the same as to put something. As it turns out, the “up with” is technically a part of the (multi-word) verb. Instead of saying, “Up he beat me,” the speaker above could say, “He beat me up.”

Of course, you can still be wrong to end a sentence in a preposition in other scenarios. You can usually catch colloquial uses like the following:

Where you at?
Who are you going with?
Where did you come from?

These may or may not be technically incorrect, but aside from the strictest of grammar pedants, most people will let you get away with saying things like that. What’s your take? Does it bug you when people end a sentence in a preposition? Or is that something up with which you will put?