by Cherie Tucker

October 2016

Many people say that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, but that’s true only when that proposition is redundant, as in the dreadful "Where’s it at?" ("Where" tells you that location is what you need, so adding "at," a second location word, is unnecessary.) We end many sentences with prepositions, especially in speaking. For example, "What’s this for?" But do people really know what a preposition is?

For example, you might be in the next room. Your keys might be under the passenger seat. These italics frame what is called a "prepositional phrase," the group of words that start with a preposition and end with a noun or pronoun.

These little words can cause a lot of trouble, if you are unfamiliar with them and how they work. They are the words like in or between or under that show the relationship of words to each other. They can cause two serious problems in your writing and speaking.

The first problem is the pronoun issue. When the choice is between "I" or "me," the rule is that the object of the prepositional phrase is in the objective case. For pronouns, that means that you have to use "me" in this sentence:

Drinks are on Bill and me.

Sadly, people are now thinking that it should be "on Bill and I." Perhaps they think it is more elegant. However, if you take each noun/pronoun separately, the correct choice is clear:

Drinks are on Bill.

Drinks are on me. (Would you ever say "Drinks are on I"?)

The other problem you might come across is caused by the noun or pronoun that ends the prepositional phrase. Many times in a sentence the phrase comes between the subject of your sentence and arrives next to the verb. Since the phrase ends with a noun or pronoun, it’s easy to make the verb agree with that word instead of the actual subject of your sentence. For example:

Only one of these fifth-grade boys or girls are going to be chosen.

The subject is "One," which is singular, but "girls" is plural and right next to the verb, and this proximity often leads to the incorrect verb choice.

Be aware of prepositions as you do your final proof. They’re small, but can be deadly.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

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