You just hopped in the cab. The driver might say, “Where to?” This standalone phrase is common in spoken, casual English. But what if your boss tells you she has a business trip next week? You could say, “Where to?” or you could play it much safer and just say, “Where?” or “To where?” or “Where are you headed?”
Sources say that one in five people still consider it erroneous to end a sentence with any preposition. But this rule is mostly a myth. It is a matter of style and knowing your audience, not a cut-and-dry rule. If you are writing a cover letter, a paper for school, or an important business pitch, steer clear of prepositions at the end of sentences. If your reader considers it wrong — even though it’s often not — you’ll get docked. It is just not worth it. It is also likely that your reworded sentence will flow better and be shorter.
In casual writing and conversation, things are much looser, but I still have some opinions. As always, watch the video or read my whole explanation below!
First things first. What’s a preposition?
A preposition is a part of speech that usually comes before a noun or pronoun and connects it to another part of the sentence. Here are some common prepositions in bold.
- Look at that puppy!
- I am green with envy.
- What’s going on in Texas?
- She cannot be around them.
- I am so sick of driving.
Prepositions show the relationship between a noun/pronoun and another part of the sentence. In some sentences, words that you think are prepositions — because they commonly are — are not acting as prepositions.
RED LIGHT: In some cases, it is flat-out WRONG to end with a preposition.
If the ending preposition is extraneous, GET RID OF IT! I hear versions of these all the time:
WRONG: Where are you headed to?
CORRECT: Where are you headed?
WRONG: Here’s where we’re at.
CORRECT: Here’s where we are.
WRONG: Where should I send the package to?
CORRECT: Where should I send the package?
WRONG: Where should I meet you at?
CORRECT: Where should I meet you?
GREEN LIGHT: Common phrases ending in prepositions are everywhere.
There are lots of phrasal verbs, common idioms and colloquialisms that place what seems like a “preposition” at the end. This might turn the preposition into another part of speech — like an adverb — making it a-okay to leave it at the end in many cases. If you’re wondering whether or not your ending preposition is in this category, this resource is fabulous.
- Cheer up!
- Some people don’t know when to back off.
- I hope the traffic dies down.
- Minutes passed before I came to.
- Invite your sister to come along.
- What are you trying to get at?
- I think the medicine is starting to wear off.
- Let that sink in.
- Do you want to hang out?
- Thanks for stopping by!
“Where it’s at” irks me but is still colloquially used, as in “These biscuits are where it’s at.”
YELLOW LIGHT: Sometimes it’s okay to end a sentence in a preposition, but there still might be better phrasing.
If the preposition is part of an informal phrase, it will often land at the end.
- The work hours are too much for me to put up with.
- A great spicy margarita is hard to come by.
- I have so much to be grateful for.
The phrases put up with, hard to come by, and be grateful for are commonly accepted informal phrases, but avoid these phrases in formal writing. Here are some suggested rewrites.
- I cannot put up with these work hours.
- It’s hard to find a great spicy margarita.
- I’m grateful for so much.
Sometimes it’s hard to avoid the preposition at the end when you are demonstrating or speaking.
- This is the dress I was looking at.
- That’s who I am going to prom with.
- It’s what they’re known for.
- Honesty is something he knows nothing about.
- That’s something I hadn’t thought of.
You can speak, text, or email like this, but avoid writing those formally. If we cleverly switch those up, we not only move the preposition, but we also employ ACTIVE voice and FEWER words — better options than PASSIVE voice and complicated phrasing. Try these.
- I was looking at this dress.
- I am going to prom with her.
- They’re known for this.
- He knows nothing about honesty.
- I hadn’t thought of that.
If “fixing” the problem sounds ridiculous, keep it. But beware.
Prepositions end up at the end of many questions.
- What did he die of?
- What did I just step on?
- Where did you come from?
- What should I put the leftovers in?
Those are technically correct because the prepositions are not extraneous. Let’s take a look at how those don’t make sense without the ending preposition.
- What did he die?
- What did I just step?
- Where did you come?
- What should I put the leftovers?
On the flip side, rewording the phrases to move the preposition can sound extremely contrived and ridiculous. We’re not in 20th-Century England, by golly, but technically these are all correct, too.
- Of what did he die?
- On what did I just step?
- From where did you come?
- In what should I put the leftovers?
My final thoughts on this topic:
So, can you end a sentence with a preposition? If it’s not extraneous, yes. Will some readers think it’s wrong no matter what? Also yes. My theory is that if part of your audience thinks it’s wrong, it might as well be. Figure out if your company or professor has an express preference, and go off of that. The more important conversation here is about writing clear sentences. There is a good chance that if you reword your sentence to avoid a preposition at the end, it will be a better, more succinct sentence.
Freshen up on Grammar Guru’s previous episodes!
Grammar Shape-Up Series: Apart vs. A Part
Grammar Shape-Up Series: Fewer vs. Less
Grammar Shape-Up Series: “Couldn’t Care Less”
Lay vs. Lie: Are You Using Them Correctly?
Apostrophes: Are You Over- Or Underusing Them?
FYI: The Acronyms You Need To Know
5 Words You’re Probably Using Incorrectly
3 Rules You’re Likely Breaking
Everyday vs. Every Day & Other Tricky Word Pairs
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