Prepositions: Ancient and Dangling

A preposition is a word that shows a temporal, spatial, or logical relationship between other words in the sentence. Examples include “between” and “in” in the previous sentence.

Other common prepositions include:

about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, but, by, despite, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, onto, out, outside, over, past, since, through, throughout, to, toward, under, underneath, until, up, upon, while, with, within, and without.

I don’t like to use “amongst” or “whilst” because they sound as archaic as “thee, thou, thy, and thine.” British English uses the older versions, whereas American English drops the “-st”. I also avoid the use of “till” to mean “until,” because it is SOOOO twelfth century! I prefer to use “until” so as not to be mistaken for tilling the soil for the garden, and I prefer the contraction ’til when stating that a party is scheduled from “5 p.m. ’til ?” or vowing to remain faithful “… ’til death do us part.”

Many grammar gurus advise against leaving “dangling prepositions” at the end of a sentence, recommending that the sentence be rewritten to include the object of the preposition in its proper place – after the preposition (which literally means “positioned before.”)

Bad Example: That’s the house the mugger ran into.

Here the word “into” dangles without an object after it.

Revised: That’s the house into which the mugger ran.

Classic Good Example from John Donne: “Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Note that he didn’t say “…whom the bell tolls for,” which would be a dangling preposition with nothing positioned after it.

A classic, exaggerated example is Winston Churchill’s quote: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

That sounds completely stilted, which is what happens when you try to revise certain sentences to obey the rule about avoiding dangling prepositions. Sometimes, it’s acceptable simply to let your preposition dangle.

OK Example: What are you looking at?

You would never say: “At what are you looking?”

Here’s what I recommend for prepositions: Try to word the sentence so the preposition has something after it and doesn’t dangle, but if it sounds completely ridiculous when you say it out loud, then just let it hang out there all by itself. And if anybody squawks about it, that person can take over my duties as Writing Tip of the Day Grammar Guru!

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