Writing with proper grammar in English is a troublesome task for most people. Regardless of how one might speak, it’s almost guaranteed to be different than the academic style of English required by universities. One extremely common feature of spoken English that differs from written English is the use of prepositions at the end of a sentence, which are called “stranded prepositions.” While there is some debate as to whether this is improper or not, it’s important to understand how to use them (or not to use them, in some cases!) so that you can do the best when it comes to your higher-level writings.
First, what is a preposition? According to the online version of the Oxford English dictionary, a preposition is, “ …[a] word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause…” Simply put, a preposition is a word that typically relates a noun to another word in the sentence, usually in terms of location, time, or means by which something is done. A neat little unofficial trick one can use to quickly determine whether a given word is preposition is to use a sentence like the following: “The squirrel ran _____ the tree.” If you can insert the word into the blank space and it makes sense, it’s more than likely a preposition. Words such as ‘to,’ ‘after,’ ‘around,’ and ‘by’ all fit here, and indeed all are prepositions! There are many variations of these ‘check-sentences,’ so use whichever one is easiest for you to remember.
But how can such a speech pattern, that many of us indeed find natural, be improper? First, it’s important to note that English is pretty unique in the sense that it takes a lot of words and aspects from different languages! It has evolved quite a bit from the Germanic-based Old English, and now includes many elements from the French language, among tidbits from others! It is for this reason that our grammar might not always make immediate sense, and why the use of stranded prepositions came about.
Whereas some might argue that using stranded prepositions isn’t improper, understanding how to avoid them can help you down the road! Consider the following sentence:
“Where did it come from?”
While sounding completely natural, it has a preposition at the end, and because we don’t want to be marked down for anything, we want to change it to make our professor happy! Luckily in this case, there is a very simple solution: put the preposition immediately before the question word. Here, our question word is ‘where,’ and by doing as said above, it becomes:
“From where did it come?”
Ta-da! A sentence whose preposition isn’t at the end! There are a number of ways to change a sentence to get rid of the stranded prepositions, and it really just depends upon what you want to do. While it may be acceptable to write using these sometimes, it is important to know when you are able to write with stranded prepositions without taking away from your writing. There is no right one way to write, but writing to be the most efficient, or in some cases to get a good grade, can be a good criterion through which you should approach a particular piece of writing.
For more information and examples of prepositions, feel free to check out the following:
– Russell Lawson, 11/2/2015