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I know that prepositions are not supposed to end a sentence; however, I have also read that some prepositions function as adverbs, as seen in "come inside" and "run around."

My question concerns an ambiguous case of both of these types of prepositions in one sentence:

"The two ideas differ in the language with which they are referred to."

I have tried writing the previous sentence in a variety of ways:

  • "...in the language with which they are referred." (The preposition with doesn't agree with referred.)
  • "...in the language to which they are referred." (This implies a different meaning of refer.)
  • "...in the language they are referred to with." (This ends the sentence with the preposition with.)

But it seems like the sentence above, in bold, is written the best. So my questions are:

  • Is this, indeed, the correct way to write this sentence?
  • Is there an effective way to eliminate either or both with and to, while preserving the sentence's meaning?
  • Are there many other examples where this structure would be the case, or is this a rare occurrence?
  • In principle, the language with which this sentence is referred to is English. But English it ain't. – FumbleFingers Dec 4 '15 at 4:02
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    I know that prepositions are not supposed to end a sentence ... This is a case where a supposed rule continues to survive, without anyone actually agreeing with it. The same applies to never splitting an infinitive ('to boldly go ..."), and neither of these rules apply to common / accepted usage at all. So you can say: "Do you know yet which high school your daughter is going to go to?", and it is perfectly fine. If you said: "Do you know yet the high school to which your daughter is going to go?" - you might be technically correct, but that is all, so you would avoid it. – Cargill Dec 4 '15 at 4:03
  • I agree With what language did he refer to his idea? almost seems a credible question. But in practice in what language..? would be more likely in the incredibly unlikely context where you might ask such a question in anything like that form. And in OP's context, an alternative to referred to (such as described or articulated) would probably make more sense at the semantic level. – FumbleFingers Dec 4 '15 at 4:13
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When you have a complex sentence that contains an independent clause and a dependent clause with a relative pronoun as in your example, it is better to separate it to two sentences (clauses).

The two ideas differ in the language

They (the two ideas) are referred to with the language.

Both sentences have the same word language which will be an antecedent for a relative clause that follows an independent clause:

The two ideas differ in the language which they are referred to with.

The preposition with could be placed before which.

The two ideas differ in the language with which they are referred to.

There is no way to omit the preposition to as it is part of the phrasal verb refer to. If you are concerned with the preposition, you could consider changing refer to to mention, describe, or specify , etc. as follows:

The two ideas differ in the language with which they are mentioned/described/specified.

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For me, the most natural option is to say:

The two ideas differ in the language which they are referred to in

But better still would be to rephrase it even more:

In X [the language you're talking about] the two ideas differ

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