Unlike some other languages, we build much of the meaning of a sentence in English through the use of word order in that sentence. So, can you end a sentence with the verb “is”?
Yes, we can end a sentence with “is,” such as when we confirm that something is the case by saying, “It is.” Specific rules govern English sentence word order, but there is no rule stating that a sentence may not end with the verb “is” or with any other verb for that matter.
This article will examine some rules and conventions regarding the order of words in a sentence. You will see that ending a sentence with a verb such as “is” or any variation of the verb “to be” is perfectly acceptable in modern English. Any caution against this practice is more a question of style than of proper English usage.
Can You End a Sentence With a Verb?
Yes, you can certainly end a sentence with a verb. Some verbs can even form one-word sentences with an implied subject. For example: Come! Hurry! Don’t! Sometimes, a simple predicate can be a verb on its own.
Word order refers to how we arrange words in sentences. Most sentences start with a subject and continue with something that we say about the subject. This divides the sentence into two parts: the subject and the predicate, usually comprising the verb plus an object.
You can also end sentences with intransitive verbs that do not require an object. For example, “I coughed” and “The plane crashed” include intransitive verbs that do not need a direct object.
However, in place of the direct object, we may answer the question “where?” “when?” “how?” or “how long?” For example, “I coughed all night” and “The plane crashed into the building.”
Can You End a Sentence With “Is”?
Word order plays an important part in determining syntax and whether, for example, one may end a sentence in formal writing with a verb or, more specifically, with the verb “to be.” Since “is” is a form of “to be,” can you end a question with “is”?
Indicating State or Location
Having reviewed the basic structure of a sentence, let’s see how and when word order starts to change and how “is” ends up at the end of a sentence. Here are some examples where “is” indicates existence:
- I have no idea where your jacket is.
- I didn’t think there was a solution, but there is.
- I’m not sure who is faster on the track, but I think Jack is.
- I can’t see what the problem is.
Can You End a Question With Is?
Another common occasion is when we change a direct question to an indirect question. Take this example of a simple statement:
- John has a tree in his yard.
If we formed a direct question — one of many possible questions — from this statement, we might ask, “Where is John’s tree?” But an indirect question would change the word order to “Can you tell me where John’s tree is?” Indirect questions can end with is.
However, it would be syntactically incorrect to say, “Can you tell me where is John’s tree?” This word order may be accepted in certain colloquial or spoken settings, but, strictly speaking, it is incorrect.
We can also use “is” at the end of a short reply to a question. For example:
Q: Who is going next?
A: He is.
Ending a Sentence with Forms of the Verb “To Be”
|I am||I was|
|You are||You were|
|He/she/it is||He/she/it was|
|We are||We were|
|You are||You were|
|They are||They were|
|Present participle: I am being, etc.||Past participle: I have been, etc.|
Be-verbs like “is” can be tricky since they most often function as linking verbs, connecting a predicate nominative or predicate adjective to the subject. However, we can also use be-verbs as main verbs indicating existence.
For the purposes of this article, we are referring to any and all of these forms of the verb “to be” when we use them at the end of a sentence (source).
As for sentences ending with a verb form of “to be” in the existential sense, there are numerous famous examples in published literature.
- In philosophy: I think, therefore I am. (René Descartes, 1595–1650)
- In Shakespeare: To be, or not to be…. (Hamlet, c.1600)
To be perfectly accurate, although we all recognize the quotation, Shakespeare didn’t technically end his sentence there so much as introduce a brief pause, but he could have stopped there (source). He was using “be” as a synonym for “exist,” which functions as a main verb.
For more on be-verbs, make sure you read our article, “I’m or I Am: Similarities and Differences in Usage.”
Basic Word Order in English
The fundamental building blocks of English sentence structure are therefore S-V-O, which stands for Subject-Verb-Object. In a simple sentence, the “subject” is the initiator of some action, represented by the verb, which impacts upon the object of the action. For example:
- John climbs the tree.
In this sentence, the subject John performs the action (climbs) on the direct object (the tree). The subject is typically a noun or pronoun, which is a person, place, or thing. The verb is the action or “doing word,” and the object is the word or group of words influenced by the action.
The Importance of Word Order in English
In journalism, the headline “Man Bites Dog!” is far more likely to sell newspapers than a similar headline proclaiming that a dog had bitten a man. The former is an unusual event likely to attract a reader’s attention; the latter, not so much.
This is just one illustration that the order in which we place words in English sometimes dramatically influences the meaning and impact of what we say (source).
In the same way, “The tree climbs John” would make no sense at all. Other languages follow a different word order, such as S-O-V in Tamil. They would say:
- John the tree climbs.
Arabic has a V-S-O structure, like this:
- Climbs John the tree.
In some of the ancient languages, such as Greek and Latin, word order in a sentence is largely immaterial because word endings determine the function of a word in a sentence.
This alteration of word endings to indicate function is called inflection. Modern German is still quite an inflected language. Still, as Leslie Dunton-Downer says in her entertaining look at how English continues to evolve:
Indeed, having lost so much inflection, Modern English relies heavily on word order to convey grammatical information. And it doesn’t much like having its conventional word order upset.Dunton-Downer, L. (2010). The English is Coming! How One Language Is Sweeping the World. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Naturally, students studying English from a different language structure may find English word order, also called syntax, confusing at first.
Types of Sentences
We can classify simple sentences as statements, questions, or commands. A statement might be, “John climbs the tree in his garden,” while a question could be, “Did you see John climbing the tree in his garden?” And a command might be, “John, do not climb the tree in the garden.”
Notice that in all of these different types of sentences, the word order remains much the same as in the simple sentence, although some of the word endings might change.
Complex and Compound Sentences
As the names imply, these sentences follow a similar word order to the simple sentence but become more complex in the amount of information that they impart.
In complex sentences, we are essentially joining two simple sentences (or independent clauses) together using a conjunction, and in compound sentences, we are adding one or more dependent clauses to an independent clause (source).
Complex and compound sentences allow for more variety in our writing. Word order, however, still usually follows the pattern of S-V-O.
“Is” is not the only verb that may end a sentence; there are many other examples. This is typically so in the case of wh-questions — “what,” “where,” “why,” “who,” “when.” So, for example, if we start with a simple statement such as:
- The girls (S) watched (V) some movies (O).
We may ask inquisitively:
- What (O) did (V) the girls (S) watch (V)?
We could move the object “what” to follow the verb “watched”: “The girls watched what?” The above statement/question pairing shows that the normal word order S-V-O changes quite naturally into the question with the word order of O-V-S-V, with the verb now at the end of the sentence (source).
Common Objections to Ending a Sentence with a Verb
We can also characterize writing style as more or less formal. Formal writing style follows certain quite well-established conventions. In selecting an appropriate style, the writer must be aware of the intended purpose of the text, the audience for whom they are writing, and the appropriateness of the style to the subject matter.
Some sources will warn “good writers” to avoid ending a sentence with a verb. Still, as we’ve already mentioned, this is more a question of writing style than of correct grammar or syntax.
The reasons some give for avoiding verb endings usually refer to the sentence being otherwise “top-heavy,” “imbalanced,” or undesirable by virtue of the verb not being situated as close to the subject of the sentence as possible.
Some will object to be-verbs at the end of a sentence, but we’ve already demonstrated that be-verbs can also function as main verbs.
You may also witness someone cite the misguided warning against ending a sentence with a preposition as a reason not to end a sentence with a verb “is.” This is doubly misguided because (a) there is nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition, and (b) “is” is not a preposition to begin with.
How justified are these other warnings? Is “The children are swimming” any less clear than “The children are taking a swim”?
“Swimming” is the gerund form of the verb “to swim,” a gerund being a verb ending in -ing that acts as a noun. In answer to the question, we might argue that “swimming” is the shorter and more commonly used expression compared to “taking a swim” and is, therefore, preferable.
Here’s another example of a sentence ending with a verb:
- Chimpanzees are far more intelligent than experts originally thought.
Strategies for Avoiding These Endings
If you still feel the need to avoid ending a sentence with a verb, we could turn this into the passive voice:
- Chimpanzees are far more intelligent than originally thought by experts.
But who would feel the necessity for making that change, and aren’t we supposed to avoid the passive voice where possible, too? The following is a case in point:
- Several experiments (S) were performed (V).
This sentence ending in a verb is also in the passive voice, and although we’re not told who performed the experiments, we may assume it was a bunch of students or laboratory technicians or such-like. Still, this sentence would be better written in the standard active voice, as follows:
The students (S) performed (V) several experiments (O).
Alternatively, any sentence ending in a verb can often be “balanced,” if at all necessary, by adding a bit of additional clarifying information; for example:
- Additional add-on components (S) can be bought (V).
We can “improve” this verb-ending sentence either by turning it into the active voice, “You can buy additional add-on components,” or by adding some further information, “Additional add-on components can be bought at all leading software stores.” This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
But as should be clear by now, under most conditions and circumstances, there really is no need to avoid ending a sentence with a verb.
There is no rule stating that a sentence may not end with a verb or with any form of the verb “to be.” On the contrary, many sentences and well-known expressions do end with the verb “is.” This is one “fake rule” that you can happily ignore.
There are rules in English governing sentence structure to convey the true sense of what one is trying to communicate. The order in which words appear in the sentence, and not the word endings, determines some of this meaning.