There are certain basic grammar rules in English that speakers and writers adhere to most of the time, even though they aren’t actual rules. For example, some students are under the impression that they should not end a sentence with a verb or a preposition, so they might wonder whether it is correct to end a sentence with “did.”
“Did” is only used at the end of a sentence as an intransitive verb, where it doesn’t require a direct object or acts as a substitute verb. Under most other conditions “did” functions as the past tense form of the verb “do,” and we can use it as either a transitive or intransitive verb.
We’ll define “did” and discuss the transitive and intransitive use of the verb. Then we’ll show you how we can end sentences with “did” without confusion and why some English speakers and writers try to avoid verbs and prepositions at the end of a sentence.
What Does “Did” Mean?
“Did” is the past tense form of the irregular verb “to do,” which is a common English verb with a number of definitions. As a main verb, “do” can have any of the following basic meanings:
To perform an action:
- I will do whatever it takes to win your trust.
To complete something:
- She did the job well.
To take part in activities:
- Jack did a lot of training for the athletics meet.
To create or produce:
- Alison did the website design.
To be enough:
- If you haven’t got four, then three will do.
“Do” can also function as an auxiliary or helping verb where we use it to make negatives (together with “not”) or to create questions. Consider the examples below to see its use as an auxiliary verb.
- I did not attend the concert last week. (negative)
- She does not like broccoli. (negative)
- Do you want to meet for dinner next week? (question)
- Did you enjoy the ballet performance? (question)
Finally, “do” can also act as a substitute verb, meaning that we use “do” instead of repeating all the words in a clause (source). Consider the examples below.
- He said he would move to Australia after school, and he did!
- Person 1: Did you go to the Fundraiser last year?
- Person 2: Yes, I did.
- Person 1: Did you forget her birthday?
- Person 2: I did, even though I set a reminder.
When Can Sentences End With Did?
There are circumstances where you will normally end a sentence with “did.” It often happens more in spoken English than in written English, but it is not incorrect to end your sentences with “did.” Some of the circumstances where you commonly end with “did” include the following.
When You Use “Did” as an Intransitive Verb
All verbs are either transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb is a verb that only makes sense when you include the object, meaning that the action of the verb must happen to something. Intransitive verbs do not require objects (source).
Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs
The verb “discuss,” for instance, is a transitive verb and requires an object. It is correct to say, “The chef discussed different ways of preparing ribs in the video.”
The phrase “different ways of preparing ribs” is the object. You can’t leave out the object phrase and just say, “The chef discussed in the video” because it won’t make sense (source).
In the sentence “Attendance increased as finals drew near,“ no object is necessary, so “increased“ is an intransitive verb.
We can use some verbs as transitive or intransitive, and “play” is such a word. You can use it as a transitive verb and say, “Three of the group play the guitar.” Here, “the guitar” is the object. But you can also use it as an intransitive verb and say, “The guitarists play outside.” There is no object in this sentence.
“Did” as Transitive and Intransitive Verb
When you use “did” as a transitive verb, the action of doing must transfer to an object. For example, the following sentences all show “did” functioning as a transitive verb.
- He always did his duty.
- Jane did her homework before playing.
- Jack did some beautiful mosaics.
In this context, “did” cannot be at the end of the sentence because the words after “did” are necessary for the sentence to make sense. The act of doing transfers in these examples to “his duty,” “her homework,” and “some beautiful mosaics.”
When you use “did” as an intransitive verb, it doesn’t require a direct object. Here we are just using it in the context of the action. Intransitive verbs like “did” often operate as the last word in a sentence, especially in answer to a question. Consider the examples below.
- I copied what he did.
- She wants to study the same course that John did.
- Person 1: Did John complete his task?
- Person 2: Yes, he did.
To find out more about ending a sentence with a verb, read the article “Can You End a Sentence with Is?”
Incomplete Clauses Where the Meaning Is Still Obvious
In spoken English, we often leave out parts of a clause or sentence if the meaning is still obvious.
For instance, instead of saying, “John said he might visit the library today, but I don’t think he did visit it today,” you can leave out the part after “did,” and the listener will still know what you mean. It is correct to say, “John said he might visit the library today, but I don’t think he did.”
However, when putting the sentence in writing, some people like to complete the whole sentence to maintain a more formal style. They believe it is better to write the full sentence, such as “My secretary said she might order the new stock today, but I don’t think she did order it today.”
The shorter form is actually easier to understand, and it is customary to leave out the part after “did” at the end of the sentence when talking to someone. The meaning of the shortened sentence is quite clear when you say, “My secretary said she might order the new stock today, but I don’t think she did.”
Consider the table below to contrast how the meaning can still be clear when we omit clauses that are implied. All the sentences that end in “did” are what English speakers use in everyday conversations and, for many, the grammatically correct longer versions sound archaic.
|With Clause Included||Ending With Did|
|You knew what had happened there before I did know it.||You knew what had happened before I did.|
|If you didn’t tell Peter where to find his daughter, who did tell her?”||If you didn’t tell Peter where to find his daughter, who did?|
|Mike found me before my mother did find me.||Mike found me before my mother did.|
|Maybe she didn’t know as much about him as she thought she did know about him.||Maybe she didn’t know as much about him as she thought she did.|
|I had connections no one else did have.||I had connections no one else did.|
When You Use “Did” as a Short Answer and the Meaning Is Clear
We can also use “did” as a short answer standing in place of the main verb of the question:
- Did she work there?
- Yes, she did.
The full sentence is “Yes, she did work there” (source). The following examples show that the short answer ending with “did” is enough to convey the message:
|Question||Short Answer||Long Answer|
|Did he finish the job?||Yes, he did.||Yes, he did finish the job.|
|Did you tell her about the meeting?||Yes, I did.||Yes, I did tell her about the meeting.|
|Did the rain stop you from going to your friend?||Yes, it did||Yes, it did stop me from going to my friend.|
When You Use “Did” in Combination With “It” as in “It Did”
Another instance where a sentence’s last word is “did” is when it ends with ”it” before “did.” We might do this to emphasize the action of a sentence or the way the subject performed it.
For instance, you could ask, “Do you understand why his behavior changed abruptly the way it did? Here, “it did” emphasizes that it was an abrupt change.
Why Some Want to Avoid Ending Sentences With “Did”
Although it is correct to end a sentence with “did,” some want to avoid using it because of stylistic customs.
Some writers believe that a sentence should never end on a verb because it creates imbalanced sentences. They will, therefore, try to place the verb as soon as possible after the subject of the sentence and follow it with a noun phrase or adverb to balance the sentence.
For example, they will avoid “The visitors are swimming” and construct the sentence as “The visitors are taking a swim” (source).
However, if you follow this custom, you could lengthen the sentence artificially. For instance, we can change the easily understandable sentence “Are you blaming Sam for what her mother did?” to the more awkward “Are you blaming Sam for what her mother did in the past?”
What About Ending Sentences With a Preposition?
A related question is whether you can end a sentence with a preposition. A preposition is a small word that usually precedes a noun or pronoun, and it indicates direction, time, place, location, and spatial relationships. Some examples of prepositions include words like “in,” “at,” “on,” “of,” and “after.”
- She drove to the hospital. (preposition of direction)
- Let’s meet at 2 p.m. (preposition of time)
- My basement is below my living room (preposition of place)
- Jack lives in Germany. (preposition of location)
- The cat is under the bed. (preposition of spatial relationships)
Long ago, for some unexplained reason, someone determined that it was incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition. This erroneous belief has lingered on, even though The Chicago Manual of Style has refuted this rule since 1906 since it can make sentences sound awkward (source).
You can definitely end a sentence with a preposition, especially if avoiding it would create confusion or sound unnaturally formal (source). Many people still try to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition wherever possible, but generally, this sounds more formal.
How Do You Avoid Ending a Sentence With a Preposition?
Generally, to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, you have to move the preposition earlier in the sentence and follow it with a pronoun.
Consider the sentences below, which we have rewritten to avoid ending with a preposition. Both forms are correct, but the rewritten version definitely sounds more formal. We don’t speak like that, although it may be appropriate in some academic writing styles.
|Ending With a Preposition||Avoiding Ending With a Preposition|
|Here’s the place I was telling you about.||Here’s the place about which I was telling you.|
|I want to know more about the people I’m working with.||I want to know more about the people with whom I’m working.|
|Application development is the topic I’m interested in.||Application development is the topic in which I’m interested.|
When writing in the passive voice, however, it’s sometimes impossible to avoid ending with a preposition without shifting to the active voice. Consider the examples below, which we cannot reorganize and still make sense.
- The match was rained off.
- Your meal has been paid for.
Where Did This Custom Originate?
There are different theories about why some teachers and grammarians advise English speakers not to end sentences with prepositions. One theory traces this back to John Dryden, a 17th-century poet, who criticized fellow writer Ben Jonson for doing so in 1672.
Decades earlier, grammarian Joshua Poole expressed his concern about placing prepositions at the end of sentences. Both these men were trying to make English grammar more in line with Latin, where sentences don’t end in prepositions. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
For more on how this custom came about, make sure you read “Do You End a Question With For?”
You can certainly end a sentence with “did” as an intransitive verb. Grammar rules are supposed to minimize confusion and maximize understanding when using language. However, customs such as not ending sentences with verbs or prepositions can have the opposite effect.
If you regard them as unbending rules, it forces you to rephrase sentences in ways that end up sounding overly formal or even nonsensical.
The best advice for students learning English is to listen for where native English speakers place verbs and prepositions. In doing that, you will “get the feeling” of what sounds correct and acceptable.
The bottom line will always be that you should construct sentences and phrases in such a way that the listener understands what you are saying.