Grammar Police Casefiles: Where Are You At?

 

  • You should avoid ending a sentence with a preposition whenever possible.
  • Simply dropping “at” and asking “Where are you?” is a simple and effective fix.

Most people are probably guilty of asking someone, “Hey, where are you at?” The main reason is that the construct is used and seen frequently, so it has become a standard in communication. However, this usage, along with its cousin “Where you at?” and text offspring “Where R U at?” is improper.

To solve this case, we will wade into the murky waters of ages past for clues then formulate a proper solution.

Why is the Phrase Improper?

The most straightforward explanation is that conventional English rules state that ending a sentence with a preposition is improper. That does not stop people from using these formulations during social communications. Even experts find themselves having to restructure their writing when that pesky preposition makes its appearance at the end of a sentence (that includes me).

A second reason is that the “at” is unnecessary and makes the question wordier than it needs to be – strong writing insists on using fewer words when possible to strengthen meaning.

Why Can’t You End a Sentence with a Preposition?

Obviously, you can, but it is improper writing. Hopefully, your spell-check fires off to warn you when you make this mistake.

The reason is not complicated. A preposition requires an object (usually a noun or pronoun) to complete the phrase in English. Accordingly, this word is called the “object of the preposition.”

This explanation means nothing if you do not understand what a preposition is. Prepositions are usually associated with space and time, as they most often explain where one thing is in relation to another (space) or explains when something happened (time).

The latter is far more challenging to grasp as some of the same “time” prepositions also serve as subordinating conjunctions, but we are not opening that can of worms here.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate is through examples:

Quinton gave the letter he received from the mailman to Pamela.

It is difficult to explain how these two specific prepositions fit into the “time/space” spectrum. Perhaps considering that each involves a location transfer can help resolve that in your mind.

Regardless, you can’t just say, “Quinton gave the letter he received from.” You have to know “who” or “what.” That means you need an object of the preposition. In this sentence, the object answers the question “from who or what?” and the answer is “the mailman.”

Similarly, “Pamela” is the object of the preposition, answering the question, “To whom or what did Quinton give the letter?” Our answer: to Pamela.

Since last week, Gertrude has sat near me at every meal.


“Since” is a time preposition, so we need to know “Since when?” Therefore, “last week” completes the phrase by answering the question. The noun “week” serves as the object, modified by the adjective “last.”

“Near” is a space word explaining location. Near who or what? Near me.

Oh, look – here’s our offender: “at.” At who or what? At dinner. The object is mandatory to complete the idea.

In our phrase “Where are you at,” there is nothing following the preposition. That’s where the no-no is!

Why Do People Use the Expression?

The answer to this question lies in the deep, dark secrets of the past (more than likely). Previously, the English language had two variants related to “where”: whence and whither.

Whence: from what location or source

Go back from whence you came, foul demon!

Whither: to which place

   Whither are we bound for this grand adventure?

While fun to use, these archaic words may earn you a few raised eyebrows or questionable glances. As a result, most people try to formulate these questions using the more acceptable word “where.”

It is possible “Where are you at” is one of these substitute expressions. As it fell into general usage, more people picked it up, and it became a regular on the scene.

What Should I Use?

While it may be somewhat anticlimactic after all of those fascinating details and its probably origin story, the simples way to solve the usage dilemma is simple to drop the “at.”

“Where are you at?” and “Where are you?” mean the same thing, but the former expression ends with an unnecessary and improper dangling preposition.

However, it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters, right?

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