English Grammar Review
Prepositions and Conjunctions

Preposition Endings

Latin did not allow prepositions to be stranded at the end of sentences. It was simply not done. That's why the trouble started. When it started was in 1762 when Robert Lowth, clergyman and teacher, published a pithy textbook on grammar. In his little book, he suggested that a sentence that ends with a preposition is inappropriate in formal writing. He did not say it was wrong. But he did imply that if you wanted to hobnob with people like him, you had better shape up and write things right. The guideline influenced the teaching of English teachers for several centuries. Unfortunately.

Question: Am I allowed to use stranded prepositions when I'm writing something I want to be considered professional?

Answer 1: Yes. At work, clarity trumps formality. Focus instead on rooting out awkwardness. If you write a sentence with a stranded preposition, and it is not absolutely clear and easy to understand, then rewrite that sentence.

Answer 2: No, if your boss insists that formality is paramount. Good luck with that.

Note: If your boss prefers formality but is open-minded, you could offer up this quote:

"One of the most persistent myths about prepositions in English is that they properly belong before the word or words they govern and should not be placed at the end of a clause or sentence."
source: A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, by Henry Watson Fowler, 1926

Sometimes even a formality-loving boss will admit that awkwardness should be avoided.

It's difficult to figure out about what you are talking. [formal, but awkward]

It's difficult to figure out what you are talking about. ["informal", but clear]

A clarity-preferring boss might find this sentence acceptable:

This is the sort of gobbledygook which I will not put up with.

A formality-preferring boss might choose this sentence:

This is the sort of gobbledygook up with which I will not put.

But that is just silly, right? The problem here is that in this sentence the preposition with was not meant to function purely as a preposition; it was meant to be an integral part of the idiomatic phrasal verb put up with.

Of course, you can avoid the issue entirely with a rewrite:

I will not tolerate the use of meaningless language.

Finally, short questions and brief statements often end in prepositions. Most of them sound awkward when writing in a formal style.

What is this made of?

Where did they come from?

It's nothing to worry about.

They need tools to work with.

Lesson: Preposition Endings
Module: Prepositions and Conjunctions
Course: English Grammar Review