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I was recently reviewing a piece of writing for a friend of mine who wrote

Though such a theory does not describe the world we live in, it will undoubtedly shed light on...

I told him to change this to

Though such a theory does not describe the world in which we live, it will undoubtedly shed light on...

I'm not entirely sure why I think this is correct besides the indirect evidence obtained from recalling that one is not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition.

Was I correct? Is there a general, corresponding rule? If so, what is it?

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    The general rule is to ignore the advice you learned from a narrow minded grammarian, and feel free to use a preposition to end a sentence with. Or as one writer put it: "This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put." public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/churchill.html – MetaEd Aug 22 '13 at 17:46
  • @MετάEd That's the sort of rule I can really vibe with :) – joshphysics Aug 22 '13 at 18:04
  • Were you correct? Yes & No! Both forms are fine. To my mind, the first is slightly more natural. – TrevorD Aug 22 '13 at 23:40
  • These crazy young people nowadays; they say the darndest things. Why the other day, my daughter asked me, "Dad, do you want to come with?" Of course I responded, "Where and with whom?" Kids. You can't live with 'em and you can't kill 'em. – rhetorician Aug 24 '13 at 16:26
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Either way works fine.

That being said, you have to read it in context with the surrounding passages. I would say that the former might be slightly better in a more casual setting, and the latter in a more formal, in that it sounds slightly more formal.

But the real question is: how does it sound in the place where it is used? That alone should govern, IMHO.

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The rule against prepositions at the end of clauses was meant to prevent expressions like "*where is my car at?" The test is whether you can remove the word and still have a valid sentence. The segment really is the clause, not the sentence. "*If I knew where my car was at, I'd still need my car keys" has the same problem as the original.

I think your friend's first sentence was much better than what you had him change it to.

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