Preposition stranding, sometimes called P-stranding, is the syntactic construction in which a preposition with an object occurs somewhere other than immediately adjacent to its object; for example, at the end of a sentence. The preposition is then described as stranded, hanging, or dangling. This kind of construction is found mainly in English and in some other Germanic languages or dialects.
Preposition stranding is also found in languages outside the Germanic family, such as Vata and Gbadi (two languages in the Niger–Congo family), and certain dialects of French spoken in North America.
Further information: English usage controversies
In English, preposition stranding is found, for instance, in open interrogatives, wh relatives, and passive constructions sometimes known as prepositional passives or pseudopassives.
Overzealous avoidance of stranded prepositions leads to unnatural-sounding sentences, especially when the preposition is part of an idiomatic phrasal verb, such as the following, apocryphally attributed to Winston Churchill. Note the verb is the phrasal verb "put up with", split to humorous effect:
There are verbal idioms in English that include more than one preposition, so it is possible to have more than one stranded preposition; one instance is the sentence
An extreme example of a sentence with five prepositions at the end:
Preposition stranding was in use long before any English speakers objected to it. Many sources consider it to be acceptable in standard formal English. "Great literature from Chaucer to Milton to Shakespeare to the King James version of the Bible was full of so called terminal prepositions."
Mignon Fogarty ("Grammar Girl") says, "nearly all grammarians agree that it's fine to end sentences with prepositions, at least in some cases." Fowler's Modern English Usage says that "One of the most persistent myths about prepositions in English is that they properly belong before the word or words they govern and should not be placed at the end of a clause or sentence."
In some cases, preposition stranding may be more acceptable or even almost obligatory. In American English, "Who did you give it to?" is standard and "To whom did you give it?" is regarded as at least formal if not peculiar, while being quite acceptable in British English.
The proscription against preposition stranding in English was probably first created by the poet John Dryden in 1672 when he objected to Ben Jonson's 1611 phrase "the bodies that those souls were frighted from". Dryden did not explain why he thought the sentence should be restructured to front the preposition. Dryden often modeled his writing on Latin, which he considered concise, elegant, and a long-lived language to which his writing could be compared. As Latin does not have sentences ending in prepositions, Dryden may have applied Latin grammar to English, thus forming the rule of no sentence-ending prepositions, subsequently adopted by other writers.
Other grammarians have supported the practice by analogy with Latin, such as Robert Lowth, who used the construction when he wrote in his 1762 textbook A Short Introduction to English Grammar that it was more suitable for informal than for formal English: "This is an Idiom which our language is strongly inclined to; it prevails in common conversation, and suits very well with the familiar style in writing; but the placing of the Preposition before the Relative is more graceful, as well as more perspicuous; and agrees much better with the solemn and elevated Style." The proscription is still taught in many schools at the beginning of the 21st century.
There are two kinds of preposition-stranding constructions in Dutch, both of which in fact involve the stranding of postpositions.
The first case involves directional constructions. A number of common Dutch adpositions can be used either prepositionally or postpositionally, with a slight change in possible meanings; for example, Dutch in can mean either in or into when used prepositionally, but can only mean into when used postpositionally. When postpositions, such adpositions can be stranded:
Another way to analyze examples like the first one above would be to allow arbitrary "postposition + verb" sequences to act as transitive separable prefix verbs (e.g. in + lopen → inlopen); but such an analysis would not be consistent with the position of in in the second example. (The postposition can also appear in the verbal prefix position: [...] dat hij zo'n donker bos niet durft in te lopen [...].)
Dutch prepositions generally do not take the ordinary neuter pronouns (het, dat, wat, etc.) as objects. Instead, they become postpositional suffixes for the corresponding r-pronouns (er, daar, waar, etc.): hence, not *over het (about it), but erover (literally thereabout). However, the r-pronouns can sometimes be moved to the left, thereby stranding the postposition:
Some regional varieties of German show a similar phenomenon to some Dutch constructions with da(r)- and wo(r)- forms. This is called a split construction ("Spaltkonstruktion"). Standard German provides composite words for the particle and the bound preposition. The split occurs easily with a composite interrogative word (as shown in the English example) or with a composite demonstrative word (as shown in the Dutch example).
For example the demonstrative "davon" (of that / of those / thereof):
Similarly for the interrogative word "woher" (from where / from what):
Again, although the stranded postposition has nearly the same surface distribution as a separable verbal prefix ("herbekommen" is a valid composite verb), it would not be possible to analyze these Dutch and German examples in terms of the reanalyzed verbs *overpraten and *vonkaufen, for the following reasons:
A few non-standard dialects of French seem to have developed preposition stranding as a result of linguistic contact with English. Preposition stranding has been found in areas where the Francophone population is under intense contact with English, including certain parts of Alberta, Northern Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Louisiana. It is found (but heavily decried) in very informal Quebec French. For example, Prince Edward Island French permits all three types of preposition stranding:
To standard French ears, these constructs all sound quite alien, and are thus considered as barbarisms or "anglicismes". However, not all dialects of French allow preposition stranding to the same extent. For instance, Ontario French restricts preposition stranding to relative clauses with certain prepositions; in most dialects, stranding is impossible with the prepositions à (to) and de (of).
A superficially similar construction is possible in standard French in cases where the object is not moved, but implied, such as Je suis pour ("I'm all for (it)") or Il faudra agir selon ("We'll have to act according to (the situation)").