Module 7, Prepositions, Lesson 9:

Placement Problems and Dangling Prepositions


Misplaced Prepositional Phrases

Putting the prepositional phrase in the wrong place can lead to some strange-sounding sentences.

Tourists often wander along our beach \with cameras. (Do the beaches have cameras?)
Tourists \with cameras often wander along our beach. (No, the tourists have cameras.)

It is always best to put prepositional phrases with the words they modify unless you are consciously moving an adverb phrase. Make sure you don't put a prepositional phrase after a noun that it doesn't modify.

Dangling Prepositions

"Never end a sentence with a preposition!" We have almost all heard that rule, but it is not as carved in stone as it sounds.

Sometimes a preposition at the end of the sentence is really a problem. Sometimes it is not. If it is, there are several ways to fix it.

  • It is fine - just leave it (unless your English teacher has a big problem with prepositions at end of sentences, in which case try completely rearranging the sentence).

    What are you looking at? - That really is okay.
    At what are you looking? - Sounds awkward. No one speaks like that, not even English teachers.

    What are these cookies made of? - Okay. You could leave it like this.
    What are the ingredients in these cookies? - Better

    A teacher is a person most children look up to. - Okay. You could leave it like this.
    A teacher is a person to whom most children look up. - A bit awkward. This might impress your teacher, but people do not talk like this.
    Most children look up to a teacher. - Completely rewritten.

  • It really is not a problem because it is an idiomatic (two-word) verb.
    What time should I pick you up? - Okay because pick up is an idiomatic/two-word verb.
  • Move the phrase.
    What time should we wake up at? - Nope
    At what time should we wake up? - Much better
  • Rearrange the prepositional phrase.
    Colored pencils are my favorite tools to draw with. - Not terrible
    Colored pencils are my favorite tools with which to draw. - Preferable
  • Just leave it off. Sometimes people add unnecessary prepositions to the end of a sentence.
    Where is your hometown at? - You don't need at.
    Where is your hometown? - Much better.

Practice What You've Learned

Exercises are reserved for account holders.
Please log in.
Highlight the misplaced phrase.
In a large box, Jessica packed her books and videos.
We waited for the school bus inside the museum.
In the waves we saw the dolphin surface and then dive.
Kassie was walking her dog in a rain coat.
I like to watch the bats dart about through my bedroom window.
Jeremy told me about what I missed in English class in the bathroom.
Did you read about the tornado on the Internet?
We agreed at the theater to go see a movie.
I bought a new car from a man with a great paint job.
I went to the beach with my father in a bikini.