In this example:

I am adverting to (noun, eg letter), the reception of which I am asking/tentative about.

How can I recast this sentence, and preserve this syntax, without the "empty preposition" about dangling at the end?

To wit, I do not wish to rewrite the subordinate (relative) clause as another sentence (as follows):

I am adverting to (noun, eg letter) and I'm tentative about its reception.


I am referring to her letter, about the reception of which I am asking.

So what you do is put the second preposition in front. Syntactically, it works as follows. The basic clause is this:

I am asking about [the reception of [her letter] ].

You can rephrase it thus:

~ About [the reception [of her letter] ] I am asking.

This is an unusual, but valid, word order, sometimes used to put focus on the phrase about the reception of her letter. This phrase is the smallest unit that you can normally move in front of the verb, the constituent about the reception of her letter. You cannot say *about of her letter the reception, nor *the reception of her letter about. For that reason, it is allowed in English to keep this smallest movable unit together at the beginning of the relative clause, even though normally the relative pronoun which needs to be at the beginning of the clause.

The alternative is putting the preposition governed by the verb, i.e. the preposition that heads the adverbial constituent, in its normal position after the verb, separate from its object, the way you did in your example. One of the reasons this is possible in English is in order to avoid about the reception of which, which is sometimes considered a bit awkward.


You can undangle the preposition by moving it in front of its noun phrase. But then you end up with the following monstrosity:

I am adverting (referring?) to the letter, about the reception of which I am tentative.

or just slightly better:

I am adverting(?) to the letter, about whose reception I am tentative.

While there are certainly occasions in which formal language is appropriate, you run the risk of sounding pretentious if you overdo it as above. I would recommend something like:

I am referring to my letter of (date), which I am not sure you have received.


Or you can rewrite it. You can write it as two sentences."I am referring to my letter. Have you received it?" Or: Did you receive my letter of [date]? Or: I am referring to her letter. Was it received? Or: I am wondering if her letter was received. ...and so on. I think the trouble happens when you use the word "about" or "which". It doesn't all have to be said in one long string of words.

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