Not ending a headline with a preposition

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"Dear Abby: Creepy boy follows around eighth-grade girl", Chicago Sun-Times 2/25/2017:

DEAR ABBY: I’m an eighth-grader with a good life. I go to a good school, have good friends and a happy family.

But at school, there is this boy who follows me around. I tell him to stop, but he keeps doing it.

So upstream in the publications process from that headline, there was apparently someone who has drunk the don't-end-a-sentence-with-a-preposition koolaid.

Some previous LLOG posts on final prepositions, stranded and otherwise:

"X nazi", 4/7/2004
"An internet pilgrim's guide to stranded prepositions", 4/11/2004
"A Churchill story up with which I will no longer put", 12/8/2004
"Better a spectacular blunder than a hint of unseemliness", 4/25/2005
"The CliffsNotes version", 6/10/2005
"If we look, simply, to the French", 6/29/2005
"Avoidance", 7/5/2005
"New Yorker search engine stark staring mad", 9/20/2005
"Churchill vs. editorial nonsense", 11/27/2005
"18th-century grammarians vs. Shakespeare et al.", 9/9/2006
"Hot Dryden-on-Johnson action", 5/1/2007
"Forgive me, awful poet", 5/2/2007
"Prepositional anxiety and Voldemort's wand", 8/25/2007
"When Zombie Rules attack", 8/26/2008
" Also, check the back seat", 11/7/2009
"'Latin-obsessed 17th century introverts'?", 8/26/2010
"You can get preposition stranding right to start with", 10/3/2010
"Lady Bracknell strands even adjunct prepositions", 11/3/2010
"You can't break rules", 8/5/2015
"Economist sticklers trying to bug me", 9/4/2015

Warning: Before commenting, please read "Boring preposition jokes: New termination policy", 10/4/2010.

Obligatory screenshot:

h/t: Charles Belov.



  1. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2017 @ 10:57 pm

    To me, this just reads like headlinese, especially the sort one might encounter in the British media (I'm British).

  2. Guy said,

    February 25, 2017 @ 11:02 pm

    The "don't end a sentence with a preposition" rule isn't even supposed to apply here, since this is an intransitive use (or is "an adverb" according to analyses that might be favored by proponents of the rule), though this of course doesn't mean that everyone who has internalized the rule would realize that, but is this rule the only possible cause here? Isn't it possible that "eighth-grade girl" was postposed for heaviness? I wouldn't postpose here but it doesn't seem too awkward. For a shorter and more usual particle like "up" I would definitely postpose that noun phrase.

  3. Guy said,

    February 25, 2017 @ 11:22 pm

    In COCA I found what appear to be seven examples of postposing involving "follow around". The postposed noun phrases are "other companies", "a dude on a motorized bike – called a 'derny'", "the first thing it sees", "staffers", "its agents", "cops", and "a group of illegal aliens".

  4. rosie said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 1:55 am

    @Levantine It doesn't seem like that to me (I'm British, too). It's no shorter than the more idiomatic wording.

    @Guy How come calling an adverb an adverb is associated with believing in the rule "don't end a sentence with a preposition"?

  5. Guy said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 3:59 am


    Calling intransitive prepositions "adverbs" isn't really well-supported by the data, and is associated with older analyses that start with the assumption that prepositions must always have objects. But the fact some prominent languages other than English have a lexical category for words that archetypically express locative meaning and mark complements of verbs and nearly always take objects isn't a good reason for concluding that English prepositions must always take objects.

    It's totally artificial to say that most English prepositions have homophonous adverbs with the same semantic content. And it's very awkward to explain why verbs that take preposition phrase complements can also take adverb phrase complements, but only if the head is homophonous with a preposition:

    "I put my hands up the chute"
    "I put my hands up"
    *"I put my hands rapidly"

    Especially since adverb complements to verbs are otherwise very rare.

    Also it's awkward to say that intransitive prepositions are adverbs because of the types of dependents they take:

    "Put that down quickly"
    "Put that down very quickly"
    *"Put that down right quickly" (ungrammatical in most dialects)
    "Put that right down"
    *"Put that very down"

    Since the idea that intransitive prepositions are actually adverbs has largely been abandoned by those who study English grammar, it tends to be associated with old saws like the preposition rule, which has no empirical support and can't really hold up on examination anyway (there are plenty of examples where a stranded preposition can't be eliminated by pied piping, including passives and hollow clauses).

  6. Levantine said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 4:46 am

    rosie, I should have been clearer: I was referring to the emphasis of the sentence rather than its length. As Guy suggested, the chosen word order gives greater weight to the girl. This to me seems like a feature of headline writing, though I may be imagining it.

  7. JPL said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 5:06 am

    1. The boy ate up his porridge.
    2. The girl walked up the street.
    3. The boy ate it up.
    4. *The girl walked it up.
    5. Creepy boy follows around 8th grade girl.
    6. [A girl goes walking, and] a creepy boy follows around the block [but no further].
    7. Creepy boy follows 8th grade girl/her around.
    8. ?[A girl goes walking, and] a creepy boy follows the block/it around [but no further].

  8. David Morris said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 6:41 am

    They could always avoid ending with a preposition by adding ', asshole'.

  9. m said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 7:15 am

    I wasn't tempted to comment at all, but I did go back to read the 2010 warning post, "Boring preposition jokes: New termination policy." For posters of certain jokes about sentences that end with prepositions, the announced penalty was death.

    I wondered if any of the LL staff (Pullum, I'm looking at you) could comment on the death toll so far resulting from violations this policy — "From now on, if you are going to post either of the two sorts of comments I have just described, please supply your actual name and residential address so I or Language Log security staffpersons Luca and Enzo can track you down. … Yes, death is a severe sanction. But I think people should look at things from my point of view. It is really irritating."

  10. Adrian Morgan said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 7:39 am

    My initial response is to agree with others who see no evidence that this headline was shaped by aversion to sentence-final prepositions. But I suppose alternative hypotheses can be tested against other headlines that have appeared on the same column. For example, if it's a headlinese thing (say, to do with keeping it punchy through the distribution of stressed vs unstressed syllables), one would expect more headlinese-sounding titles from the same source. You can look into this if you want; I'm insufficiently motivated.

  11. TR said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 1:11 pm

    it's very awkward to explain why verbs that take preposition phrase complements can also take adverb phrase complements, but only if the head is homophonous with a preposition

    What about I put the book away?

  12. Sniffnoy said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

    Yes, this doesn't seem like the usual "don't end with a preposition" application, since those generally require adding a "which" or a "whom" when rearranged. This seems fine to me and actually clearer than the version with "around" at the end.

  13. Guy said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 3:18 pm


    Many dictionaries list "away" as an adverb but most of the usages they list under that heading are syntactically like prepositions, not like adverbs. And although adverb is a residual category, "away" doesn't really have either of the functions most associated with adverbs (adjunct in clause structure or dependent in adjective or adverb phrase structure). I would say that "away" is a preposition (which shouldn't be too surprising, since it is etymologically derived from a preposition phrase).

  14. Rachael said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

    Maybe they were using Grammarly. I recently saw it complain about a sentence ending with a preposition in "increase the chance of the change coming about." I'm not even sure how you could re-order that to not end with a preposition.

  15. Guy said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 4:40 pm


    How about "increase the chance of the change coming about in the future"? (Yes, I'm joking.)

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 8:55 pm

    Is "intransitive preposition" the best label in structures where an object of the preposition is not obligatory but is certainly permissible? Or do we think "around" is doing something different in "She complained that the creepy boy was following her around campus" than it is in "She complained that the creepy boy was following her around"?

  17. Andrew Usher said,

    February 26, 2017 @ 11:05 pm

    Yes, I think 'around' in this sentence is a preposition. Note that that creates a theoretical ambiguity in the headline, though silly: "Creepy boy follows [something] around eighth-grade girl".

    Related, I've noticed that in the posts we see here about silly avoidance of split infinitives, the editors (seemingly tone-deaf) always move the adverb before the infinitive, even when that gives the wrong meaning. However, in real English, the normal non-split-infinitive way of doing it put the adverb _after_ the infinitive, either immediately after or at the end of the clause. The standard example 'To boldly go …' would be about as good if 'to go boldly …' (strong stress on _boldly_), but a major clunker as 'boldly to go …' – though, in that case, not ambiguous.

    k_over_hbarc at

  18. Guy said,

    February 27, 2017 @ 2:10 am

    @J. W. Brewer

    It's maybe a slight abuse of terminology, but it's common to say that an intransitive use of a verb is an intransitive verb, even if that verb also has transitive uses (e.g. We might say that "break" is intransitive in "the vase broke" but transitive in "the ball broke the vase"). If we want to describe all the complentation patterns that a verb admits and their relationships to each other, we need to talk about verb classes that can't be summed up with with a simple word like "transitive" or "intransitive". For example, we might say that "break" belongs to the class of causative/inchoative verbs, or that "eat" belongs to class of verbs that can be (mono)transitive or intransitive, where the intransitive is interpreted like the transitive with a generic subject, etc.

    I think this convention makes sense for prepositions as well. When I said that "around" here was an intransitive preposition, I meant this use of "around" was an intransitive use.

  19. TR said,

    February 28, 2017 @ 6:16 pm

    So we have to say that there are prepositions that are always intransitive, like away? Not sure how I feel about that — the concept of an inherently intransitive preposition feels like a contradiction in terms.

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