'Taylor' Your Writing: Ending a Sentence with a Preposition Is Something to Think About Print

July 27, 2011:   Finish your vegetables.  Wait twenty minutes after eating before you go swimming.   Don't end a sentence with a preposition.  My parents' admonitions still ring in my ears.

It's easy in casual writing to find that a sentence has ended with a preposition:

"That is the door we went through."
"He's the one I'm disappointed in."
"Have you thought about the friend you are going with?"
"Those customs we disapprove of."
"Getting up early is something we are not accustomed to."

Then there is the quick editorial scramble to rewrite:

"That is the door through which we went."
"He is the one in whom I am disappointed."
"Have you thought about the friend with whom you are going?"
"Those are customs of which we disapprove."
"Getting up early is something to which we are not accustomed."

Rewriting in this manner often ends up sounding like a page from Shakespeare, and the poor reader is left without CliffsNotes.

Then I found it.  Shakespeare himself yielded to the occasional preposition sentence-ender:

My ashes, as the phoenix, may bring forth
A bird that will revenge upon you all:
And in that hope I throw mine eyes to heaven,
Scorning whate'er you can afflict me with.
--Henry VI, Part III (I.4.35-8)

Blissfully, the editors at the grammar bible, The Chicago Manual of Style, have deemed that "The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences with prepositions is, for most writers, an unnecessary and pedantic restriction."  CMS, para. 5.176 (16th ed. 2010).  Authors Strunk and White counsel that "not only is the preposition acceptable at the end, sometimes it is more effective in that spot than anywhere else." The Elements of Style (4th ed. 2000), 77.

In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, author H.W. Fowler explains that this rule was an attempt by writers to follow the rules of Latin grammar, but he then lists numerous writers from Chaucer to Kipling who have employed a sentence-ending preposition.  Fowler's advice is, "Follow no arbitrary rule" but, instead, make a conscious choice based upon the feeling the writing will elicit in the reader.  A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, H.W. Fowler, ed. Sir Ernest Gowers (Oxford Univ. Press, 2d ed. 1965), 473-75.

(I will spare the reader the more technical discussion by Fowler about never separating an adverbial particle from its phrasal verb, but he shows the awkwardness of trying to remedy "which I will not put up with" by changing it to "up with which I will not put," a remedy whose denunciation is commonly attributed to Winston Churchill, who is alleged to have quipped that an editor's rearranging of his words to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition is "arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.")

Happily, then, this is one rule that we can disregard in favor of creative writing and common sense.  I might just eat my dessert before dinner.  And skip the broccoli alongside.