These Aren't the Droids You're Looking ForI just suddenly realized something that disturbed and nearly traumatized me. In the original and coolest Star Wars movie, when Obi Wan Kenobi says, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” he ends a sentence with a preposition. At first I wasn’t sure what to think about this. It seemed to me that the world is in a dismal state indeed when even a respected Jedi master ends sentences with prepositions, and when the resulting sentence becomes an iconic quotation throughout all of the coolest areas of pop culture. But then I remembered. Obi Wan Kenobi wasn’t from this world, he was from a galaxy far, far away, and he wouldn’t have been speaking English, either. Of course we all know that Star Wars is more than just a science fiction story- it really happened- but the film version that we have available in our own galaxy was made in 1977 and filmed with English-speaking audiences in mind. Therefore, most of the major characters speak English in the movie, but in real life, they spoke some other language native to their own galaxy. In translation, sentence structure often gets altered, thus resulting in the catastrophic placement of the preposition.

I suppose that I ought to acknowledge at this point that it’s technically not forbidden to end sentences with prepositions in English. John Dryden, a seventeenth-century English poet, insisted that it was incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition, but this was in fact true of Latin, not English. It is worth further noting that at one time, particularly in the Renaissance, it was considered cool to make English sound more like Latin. The fact remains, though, that there are grammatical differences between different languages, and that Latin rules don’t necessarily apply to English. Still, it is generally agreed that ending English sentences with prepositions should be avoided, and I maintain that there is nearly always a better way to state the same sentence.

It would seem that examples are in order.

1. “I can end sentences with prepositions if I want to.”

Here, I think that the sentence would be fine with the preposition omitted, thus resulting in the sentence “I can end sentences with prepositions if I want.”  A couple other possibilities are “If I want to, I can end sentences with prepositions” and “I can end sentences with prepositions if that’s what I want to do.” I would like to point out, though, that there’s a difference between “can” and “may”.

2. “Prepositions are good words for ending sentences with.”

Again, in this particular case, it would work to simply remove the preposition: “Prepositions are good words for ending sentences.” A better way to restate the sentence is to replace to preposition “for” with “with which to” and to change the form of the verb “ending” to “end”. The resulting sentence is “Prepositions are good words with which to end sentences.” Some people might say that it’s more awkward that way, but it really isn’t. It just sounds a little funny to people who are accustomed to ending sentences with prepositions. You should probably be aware that it’s a bad idea to argue that point too much, or else someone might decide to hit you.

3. “Ow! What did you hit me for?”

“What for” questions can be easily changed into “Why” questions.  In this case, the restated version would be, “Ow! Why did you hit me?”

4. “Now my arm is bleeding; where are the Band-Aids at?”

It seems to me that the preposition “at”, when it appears at the end of a question or statement, is generally unnecessary because it’s redundant. In the case of this example, the offending preposition can simply be removed without messing up the sentence at all: “Now my arm is bleeding; where are the Band-Aids?”

5. “She just hit me because I end my sentences with prepositions, and that’s not something she can put up with.”

Here’s another place where the “with which” rule could be used. (“She just hit me because I end my sentences with prepositions, and that’s not something with which she can put up.”) There are a couple of problems with this, though. One is that it sounds like it still ends with a preposition, because “up” is often a preposition. In this case, though, it isn’t, because it’s a particle that’s part of the verb “put up”.  Therefore, that problem doesn’t really count, but the other problem is that this sentence really is pretty awkward. The best way to fix it is to use a different word in place of “put up with”, and the ideal word with which to do this is “tolerate”. Thus, the sentence now reads, “She just hit me because I end my sentences with prepositions, and that’s not something she can tolerate.”

6. “No wonder I couldn’t find the Band-Aids myself; that’s a weird box to keep them in.”

In my personal opinion, the “in which” version of this sentence would sound just fine. (“No wonder I couldn’t find the Band-Aids myself; that’s a weird box in which to keep them.”) I realize, though, that some people might find that to be a bit awkward. It might work better to restate the sentence without the preposition “in”. For example, you could say, “No wonder I couldn’t find the Band-Aids myself; that’s a weird box for them.” I would still go with the first choice.

7. “Because this box has pictures of flesh-eating dinosaurs all over.”

For this kind of sentence, all you need to do is to finish the prepositional phrase. It needs a noun or pronoun to clarify what the phrase “all over” means: “Because this box has pictures of flesh-eating dinosaurs all over it.”

8. “I just put a Band-Aid on.”

Again, all you need to do is add a word to explain what you’re doing with that preposition. You could say, “I just put a Band-Aid on my arm”, or, if you’re feeling a bit melodramatic, “I just put a Band-Aid on my mutilated and bloody arm. Oh, see the blood! Surely this hideous grievance must be avenged!” If the original sentence had referred to an article of clothing, (“I just put a shirt on.”) it would probably sound better to just move the preposition: “I just put on a shirt.”

9. “Now I’m going to hit her arm next time she walks by.”

You could fix this sentence in the same way: “Now I’m going to hit her arm next time she walks by me.” But I have a cheater’s method for sentences like these. Just invert the sentence structure so that the preposition ends up in the middle of the sentence: “Next time she walks by, I’m going to hit her arm.” This doesn’t always work; it’s basically just a way of rearranging a sentence that’s already valid and grammatically correct. I only use it because I hate when sentences end with prepositions. And I have already reluctantly acknowledged that such things are occasionally permissible.

This brings me back to the quotation from Obi Wan Kenobi. This one isn’t so easy to fix. The sentence “You aren’t looking for these droids” doesn’t really work; it slightly changes the meaning by making “you” the subject of the sentence. Obi Wan Kenobi could have said, “These aren’t the droids for which you’re looking”, but that’s somewhat less quotable. The best alternative I can offer is “These aren’t the droids you’re seeking”, but that sounds a little unnatural. I’m going to have to concede that the original sentence, which ends with a preposition, is the best one.

But only because Obi Wan Kenobi is a Jedi master from another galaxy.

Note: No arms were harmed in the writing of this blog post.