Dangling prepositions have a bad reputation. Even Winston Churchill was reportedly criticized for using them. Penlighten explains what a dangling preposition actually is, with its definition and some examples for a better understanding.
Did You Know?
The rule that a sentence cannot end with a preposition is regarded as one of the biggest grammar myths of all time.
Every language has a rich history behind it. The way it is spoken and written in the present day depends a lot on its development through the centuries. The general perception is that, our ancestors were perfectionists, who adhered to the rules of a language strictly while using it. This seems to indicate that we make more mistakes while communicating than they ever did, which may not always be true. Some controversies like the use of dangling prepositions arose right from the time the English language was born. But to understand more about it, let us first learn the basics as to what a preposition is.
What is a Preposition?
A preposition is a word used to relate a noun or pronoun to other words in a sentence. They are most commonly used to indicate position and time. Popular examples include on, over, in, at, with, up, of, since, and for. Take a look at the following sentences.
The book was kept on the table. (indicates position)
He has been talking since the lecture began. (indicates time)
The noun which the preposition relates to the rest of the sentence is called the object of the preposition. Mostly, but not always, the object occurs immediately to the right of the preposition. In the above examples, table and lecture are the objects of the prepositions on and since, respectively.
What is a Dangling Preposition?
A preposition which occurs at the end of a sentence or phrase, because it has been separated from its object, is known as a dangling, hanging, or stranded preposition. While such use of prepositions is ancient, it has earned disapproval in the past centuries. Even today, in some places, learners of English are taught not to end their sentences with prepositions. Despite this fact, there is no general consensus on whether preposition stranding is correct or not. Here are some examples of dangling prepositions.
● He is someone I look up to.
● What are you waiting for?
● This is something you should pay attention to.
When Did the Controversy Begin?
The earliest use of dangling prepositions can be traced to the literary works of Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton, and Shakespeare. Such constructions were first criticized in 1672, by the influential poet and playwright John Dryden. Like most people of his era, Dryden believed that English should be modeled on Latin, which was considered the noblest of all languages. Since Latin does not allow the use of hanging prepositions, Dryden believed that such rules should be applied to English as well. Then, in the eighteenth century, Robert Lowth, a Bishop in the Church of England, criticized their usage in his popular book A Short Introduction to English Grammar. These events gave dangling prepositions a bad reputation, which seems to have persisted to the present day.
How to Fix a Dangling Preposition
► Provide an object to the preposition, or place it at the beginning of the sentence.
✗ Who are you going to the store with?
✔ With whom are you going to the store?
► Remove the preposition if it is not necessary, especially in sentences ending with at.
✗ Where are you at?
✔ Where are you?
► Rearrange the phrase in the sentence that contains the preposition.
✗ That’s the person I must talk to.
✔ That’s the person to whom I must talk.
When are Dangling Prepositions OK?
► When used with idiomatic verbs, which are two-word verbs like break out, bring on, and pick up.
E.g.: Come here to pick me up.
► When the preposition is used in a passive sentence.
E.g.: The football match was rained off.
► When used in relative clauses. These clauses describe a noun in the sentence, and are connected to the noun by words like where, who, that, what, whose, and which.
E.g.: This is the task that I spent a lot of time on.
► Where the infinitive form of a verb is used. This is the original form of a verb, that is normally used with a to – such as to run, to eat, and to die.
E.g.: I have no friends to play with.
Despite the controversy surrounding them, dangling prepositions are widely used in conversational English. As the language evolves with time, they are finding increasing acceptance among grammarians, professors, and other experts of the language.