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3 Vote

Recently I received a couple of jibes for ending a sentence with a preposition - the sentence I used was 'What are you doing that for?'.

Which got me to thinking - is it really incorrect to 'ever' end a sentence with a preposition in English?

My findings, just out of interest include articles with call this an antiquated notion as well as grammar myth No 1.

I found this a helpful suggestion from the second article regarding when 'not' to end a sentence with a preposition:

...you can't always end sentences with prepositions. When you could leave off the preposition and it wouldn't change the meaning, you should leave it off.

In my sample sentence it wouldn't make sense, of course I could have used 'why' - 'why are you doing that' but seeing as I chose to use 'what' I think it's ok.

Would anyone like to add anything to this?

  • Posted Nov 13, 2010
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  • You should title this post, "Using a preposition to end a sentence with" :-) - pesta Nov 13, 2010 flag
  • lol :) - Kiwi-Girl Nov 14, 2010 flag

4 Answers

3 Vote

Thanks for the links. I frequently end sentences with prepositions. I have also been known to frequently split infinitives.

  • You just had to ironically illustrate your split infinitives. ;-) - pesta Nov 14, 2010 flag
  • It's ok the Oxford dictionary says so je je http://oxforddictionaries.com/page/grammartipsplitinfinitive - Kiwi-Girl Sep 20, 2011 flag
3 Vote

Some of the shortest commonly spoken sentences and sentence fragments in English include:

  • What for?
  • What's this for?
  • Who did you go with?
  • Where to?
  • Where are you from?

In each case, leaving off the preposition alters the meaning.

2 Vote

I could have used 'why' - 'why are you doing that' but seeing as I chose to use 'what' I think it's ok

I think that the phrase "You might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb." covers your example. Stylistically, you made a sub-optimal choice when you elected "what for" over "why" (and trapped yourself into needing to tack the preposition on at the end). Were you 400 years older than you (most likely) are, you could/would have said "Wherefore did you that." (cf. Shakespeare's "Wherefore art thou Juliette?") and the issue wouldn't arise (since "wherefore" is a single word)..

One argument against your choice is simple economy; "Why did you do that?" is simpler and more direct. On the whole simple and direct are considered virtues in speech. From a different point of view, contrast "What did you?" with "What did you do that for?" Using the latter construction , means the listener can't know your meaning until 2/3 of the way through the sentence (i.e. you are making the listener work harder to understand your meaning).

As your links points out (and as any grammar buff knows, the blanket statement "Never end a sentence with a preposition!" is, at best, a "pseudo-rule" about usage. Churchill's famous bon mot (in response to being criticized for ending a sentence with a preposition) and others like it usually involve phrasal verbs (cases for which the preposition is essential and needs to be next to the verb [in his particular case "put up"]).

An additional benefit that arises from not ending sentences with preposition (excepting in the case of phrasal verbs) is you avoid the temptation to use ungrammatical constructions, such as Pesta's "Who did you go with?" This is a common grammatical error among English speakers and, yet, if you change it to "With whom ... " (i.e. putting the pronoun directly after the preposition) most people get it right (I have yet to hear an English speaker say "With who ..."

Considering his other examples:

  • What for?
    • What's this for?
    • Who did you go with?
    • Where to?
    • Where are you from?

In each case, leaving off the preposition alters the meaning.

"Why" is simpler, shorter and avoids the problem. For the 2nd one could say "What's the purpose of this?" and avoid the problem but his formulation is more economic.* Who did you go with?" (already mentioned, it should, of course be * Whom did you go with?" [or better, yet, "with whom did you go?"]). Unfortunately, one can no longer ask "Whither?" and expect to be understood. Nonetheless, it did avoid the problem. "Whither come you (comest thou) is tempting but several centuries out of date. The current usage of "be from" is, essentially, as a phrasal verb.

0 Vote

Most people bend this rule, however "What are you doing that for" is just really bad English, that is bending the rule awfully far to end a sentence on the word "for".

  • What rule do you mean? Because you do realize that there isn't actually a rule that says 'thou shalt not end a sentence in a preposition' :P - Kiwi-Girl Sep 20, 2011 flag
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