Ending a sentence with 15+ prepositions

One of daftest and dustiest old grammar myths is the unfounded rule against ending a sentence with a preposition. This fake proscription seems to have been invented by a Latin-loving John Dryden in 1672 and, like an indestructible demonic meme, continues to gnaw at people’s minds centuries later. Some even believe it.

Avoiding preposition-stranding (as it’s known) can have deliberately comical results, famously in not-Churchill’s “arrant nonsense up with which I will not put”. And then there’s the well-known line contrived to end in a whole stack of prepositions: “What did you bring that book that I didn’t want to be read to out of [about Down Under] up for?”

A couple of those “prepositions” might be better described as adverbs, but anyway. Variations on this line abound; until lately, though, I had never seen one so extravagant as this 15-preposition-pile monster:

What did you bring me the magazine I didn’t want to be read to out of about ‘”Over Under Sideways Down” up from Down Under’ up around for?

See Futility Closet for context, involving recursion and lighthouses. After I linked to it on Twitter, a couple of people pointed out that the line cheats by ignoring the use–mention distinction – that is, many of the prepositions aren’t used as prepositions. (Also: adverbs.) But I think cheating is allowed here in the interests of silliness.

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10 Responses to Ending a sentence with 15+ prepositions

  1. limr says:

    Concessions should always be made for a bit of silliness.

    I’ve tried to do similar sentences with verb phrases. So far I’ve come up with a future perfect passive: She is going to have been being talked about for hours after leaving the party.

  2. Should that sentence not end with a hyphen, followed by “over and out?”

  3. Shaun Downey says:

    Ah now 15 prepositions is a sight to behold! On the other hand the contortions needed to prevent a sentence ending in one can be quite amusing

  4. wisewebwoman says:

    I needed a good laugh, Stan, you provided. I am grateful for which.

    XO
    WWW

  5. Stan says:

    Leonore: I like it. Have you sketched it in the form of a sentence diagram? Or should I say, is it going to have been being drawn?

    John: It could, but and would break the sequence.

    Shaun: It surely is, and it could be lengthened still further.

    WWW: The line raised a chuckle round here too!

  6. Steeny Lou says:

    Then there’s the grammar of Yoda…

  7. Brenda Coxe says:

    There is a limit. I still find it difficult to drop old teachings and avoid ending with a preposition unless it doesn’t make sense otherwise or sounds awkward. However, one that really gnaws at me to know end is the ever present, “Where shall we meet at?” There is no need for the “at;” the sentence is perfectly clear without it.

  8. Simon says:

    It’s not just that a couple of them “might” better be described as adverbs; a couple of those are not syntactically prepositions whatsoever, but verb adjuncts/particles–adverbs if one insists on calling them that: “up,” “sideways,” “around,” etc. There is no grammatically defensible way to argue that there are fifteen “prepositions” in a row there.

  9. Stan says:

    Brenda: The sentence is also perfectly clear with it. (You mean “to no end”, I think.)

    Simon: I wouldn’t defend such a position grammatically.

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