Column: Is it ever acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition?


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

If your goal in life is to spend your weekends perusing chandelier catalogs while wearing a gold-rimmed monocle in one of your five lake houses, you probably should brush up on your grammar. Today’s focus is on ending sentences with prepositions, which is almost universally seen as a big no-no by traditional grammar aficionados.

Before I surprise you with my take on the subject, let’s revisit what prepositions are in the first place. A preposition is a word that connects a noun to another nearby word or phrase in a sentence. I know—that’s confusing. Let me give you some examples:

Mari tripped (over) the sleeping puppy.

Joe showed off his amazing dad dance skills (during) the Milli Vanilli concert.

I locked my keys (inside) my car again.

Supposedly, it’s a huge grammar faux pas to end a sentence with a preposition. In most cases, I agree. The primary instance in which you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition is when the preposition is unnecessary, like in the sentence: Where did you put your keys at? The reason this sentence is wrong is because “at” is unnecessary. If it read: Where did you put your keys?, the meaning would stay the same.

Here’s where some old-school grammarians will wag their fingers at me: When you have to drastically and unnaturally alter your sentence structure to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, don’t worry about it. By doing so, you either sound way too formal or like you’re doing a Yoda impression. Instead of saying, “The polo match was rained out,” people will contort their sentence into, “Rained out the polo match was.” When I read that, my inner narrator sounds precisely like Luke Skywalker’s tiny green guru.

Sure, it’s important to maintain formal sentence structure when the occasion calls for it: In a job cover letter, in academic papers and when ordering at multi-Michelin star restaurants. But, in everyday usage, ending the occasional sentence in a preposition isn’t a big deal. If dramatically altering your sentences to avoid ending them in prepositions makes them sound super awkward and overly formal, you may just need to lighten up.