When you speak, do you ever end a sentence with “at” — and I don’t meant the “@” sign, either! Here are some examples:

“Where did you put it at?”

“How far away is it at?”

“I lost my key, where did you last see it at?”

I admit I have been guilty of ending a spoken sentence with “at” at times in my life, and I’m not proud of that grammatical error. And old English professor of mine — from England! — had been teaching at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for 30 years before I met him. He would always reprimand me, and all his students, when we would end a spoken sentence with “at.”

Few of us ended a written sentence with “at.” He said “at” was our accent and it “branded us as Nebraskans.” He wasn’t giving us a compliment. Our professor claimed he lost all his hair by pulling out single strands every time a student used “at” at the end of a sentence.  I can imagine him, 50 years ago, yanking out a single hair and wincing as he handed the strand to offending student.

Do you have any bad grammar habits that were born into you based on region or geography that ended up getting you mocked by The Grammar Police? Can you share any grammar traps that always catch you when moving from your native language into a second or third language and the rules you use to help you remember the proper sentence structure?


  1. You know I think I do this too sometimes? I wonder what it is about the “at” that makes us add it on the end of sentences?

  2. Hi Anne!
    I don’t know why we do it! It seems we add “at” at the end of sentences that require an indicator of location. In my examples above they all point to putting something in a particular place or expecting something to be located somewhere. It’s mind-boggle for sure!

  3. No explanation was given. If we understood why we were doing it we probably would have stopped doing it. I don’t know if there’s a reason for it — I guess it just adds extra emphasis to the thought?
    Once you know you’re adding the “at” it becomes nettlesome in your mind and bothersome in others because you cannot help but be driven batty like our professor. “At” is harsh on the ear and silly in use.
    I’ve met people from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Ohio who all use the “at” at the end of a spoken “location” sentence. Like it or not, “at” does seem to regionally brand you.

  4. i too had this pointed out to me in the earlier years of learning to put sentences together.
    here’s a link to a most excellent Style Guide that gives a quick overview of the issue of prepositions at the ends of sentences and offers an elegant rebuttal by Winston Churchill to the position that they are to be eschewed:
    Guide to Grammar and Style by Jack Lynch – Prepositions at the End of a Sentence
    one sentential faux pas that was however allowed to be instilled into the literary litanies of my developing mind was “had had”, used thusly: “I had had to go to school the other day.” The idea was that the first “had” implied the past tense of the word “have” – “I had to do something” while the second implied the necessity itself – “I had to do something.” utterly redundant. Probably resulting from a mistranslation of “I’d” as “I had” instead of “I would” and a subsequent muddling of tense to add some flavor to the stew there created.
    i know that sounds a bit weird, but, there it is. it was only after many long hours under the hot lights of interrogation by the local grammar police that the utter brokenness of this expression was finally and painfully revealed to me.

  5. I think I might be guilty of “what did you do that for” – and I would almost certainly got it from my parents – so that might have its origins in middle England.

  6. Outstanding work, salubrious, and thanks for those links!
    I’m a big Rutgers-Newark fan since I taught there for a long while and it’s great to have such clear brilliance ringing in from the urban core!

  7. Nicola!
    Can you ask your mother about that phrase? I’m dying to know the where and why of “what did you do that for” and how it was put into you without your permission or foreknowledge!

  8. I can try – at 90 and frail she may not be able to quite understand the question – let alone answer………….

  9. Boost Mobile’s “Where You At?” advertising campaign probably hasn’t made any friends with English teachers. 🙂
    As Winston Churchill said: “This is the kind of impertinence up with which I shall not put.”
    One language construct that is popular in the Chicago area is the phrase “over by there.”
    Here’s an example.
    A tourist approaches someone on the street.
    “Can you tell me where is Macy’s?”
    “You mean Marshall Fields*. It’s over by there.”
    Point in the general direction of where the place is located, much like you’d point East if someone asked where Rome is located.
    *A true Chicagoan won’t admit that Marshall Fields is now that soulless place from New York City — Macy’s. 🙂

  10. Hi Chris!
    “Where you at?” reminds me of an article I wrote in 1997 for GO INSIDE Magazine berating the WNBA’s new slogan, “We Got Next.”
    I love your “Over by there” phrase — that’s a new one on me but if someone gave me that direction I think I could figure out where to go!
    I feel for the falling of Marshall Fields. That was a sad event.

  11. Hi David,
    Here’s an interesting blog post about “Over by there.” After nine years in Chicago, the writer uses the phrase in response to a directional question.
    The phrase “come with” is also mentioned in the comments post as another form of Chicagoese, but I’ve heard that in other locations as well.

  12. Chris!
    I love that blog post about “Over by there.” I think that’s my new favorite catch-phrase!
    I first heard “come with” when I moved to New York. I paused for a second and looked at the person like they were crazy and couldn’t help saying, “What did you just say?”
    They replied as if the phrase was common and non-exclusive, “I said, you wanna come with?”
    I just stood there for a moment trying to work out the grammar of it all…
    That phrase still grates my ear today for some reason…

  13. A couple of times I’ve been asked how I get from Northwest Indiana to the Loop in ways that makes me think that people who ask the question seem to think traveling from Northwest Indiana to Chicago is the same as coming from Bhutan or some other far-flung place.
    In fact, it’s easier to get to the Chicago city limits (about 20-25 minutes) or to the Loop (about 45 minutes to 1 hour) from where I live than from many other places in the area because of the Skyway – Tollway combination. Rumors are that the elder Daley had the Skyway built to provide a quick route to the family vacation spot on Lake Michigan.
    The latest question was something along the lines of:
    How’d you get downtown? Did you train it?
    That was the first time I’ve heard someone use the phrase “train it.”

  14. I love the Daley story, Chris! Ha! Now that’s using the fruits of your job wisely for your own benefit!
    “Did you train it?” Love that one! I gotta start a list!

  15. Going Great Guns

    Have you ever heard the phrase Going great guns? I have. And I haven’t. I have when the inevitable Gordon Davidescu — the ever-intrepid Technical Editor for my new book, Google Apps Administrator Guide — sent me an email indicating

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