Dangling preposition

Careful you must be when prepositions trying to fit before the complement you are. Easy for your sentences like something Yoda might write to read it is. Sometimes dangle a preposition must.

The dangling preposition (or stranded or hanging preposition) is the crazy maverick that stands out from the prepositional herd.

By their very nature, it is sometimes believed, prepositions should appear before the word or phrase that they govern – inside the box, around the corner, in respect of the annual fiscal report of 2014-2015. This is where the pre- in preposition comes from.

Indeed, some people believe that it is a grammatical error to allow the preposition to forget its place in front of the complement and rear up at the back of the pack. But these people are wrong.

Debunking the myth of the evil dangling preposition

In fact, it is quite common in Germanic languages (like English) to have these independently minded little words find their way somewhere else, though unusual in many other language groups.

There are examples of dangling prepositions dotted all over English literature, stretching back to the Anglo-Saxon era when the language first appeared. Chaucer used them, Shakespeare used them, and, more to the point, everyone that uses English uses dangling prepositions too.

Which drawer did you leave the keys in? sounds far more natural to an English listener than In which drawer did you leave the keys? In fact, open questions like that work best with the preposition stranded.

Relative clauses also involve dangling prepositions: for example, this was the opportunity he’d been waiting for.

Exclamations like Look at the state you’re in! must show the preposition at the end. The same is true of set phrases and phrasal verbs: the former being phrases that are so familiar they would lose their sense if rearranged, e.g. the baby loved being made a fuss of. Phrasal verbs feature prepositional particles like up, out, about, etc. but as an integral part of the verb. They can be distinguished from prepositional phrases as they do not have a complement.

Put me down has no complement, but drop me down the stairs does (stairs); therefore, down is part of a phrasal verb, not a preposition.

Incidentally, if you are wondering whether you can start a sentence with a preposition, the answer is absolutely, yes. Prepositional phrases are regularly used to open sentences, but you should be sure to put a comma at the phrase’s end.

Over the last few minutes, everything about dangling prepositions has become much clearer.

Examples of dangling prepositions

open (w-word) interrogative Which doctor are you waiting for?
relative You are what the world is waiting for.
phrasal verb Sorry, I’ve messed up.