prepositional phrases

Here’s one of the little tricks I use when I’m editing or critiquing fiction or creative non-fiction for a friend:

Judge each prepositional phrase with no mercy in your heart.

I have had students whose work bristled with excess prepositional phrases, veritable hedgehog paragraphs that gave even courageous readers the prickles. For some reason, the worst prepositional phrase excesses tend to congregate at the caboose of the sentence. It’s as if the writer just can’t separate himself from the newly hatched thought and must stick around and pet it for a while, dressing it up just a little more before he moves on to the next thought.

My guess is that you could pick up most novels, almost any novel you’ve got hanging around and find occasional paragraphs that are infested and need treatment. Now, I am not a minimalist. I can appreciate the occasional Raymond Carver story, but in general, I don’t get the urge to reread them. So this isn’t me telling you to cut cut cut every word you can possibly do without, and some you can’t. I like prose, I like description but still: every word has to earn its place in the sentence.

4 Replies to “prepositional phrases”

  1. Great lesson, one I have no intention of using during my Nanowrimo month, after all every word counts. In the future I will think twice before I go prepositional phrasing crazy ??? I have caught myself, however, I’m sure I still have room for improvement. Thanks Rosina!

  2. I think this is a common critique of business writing – get to your point; avoid wordiness. But when you’ve cut the writing down to bones, I find some people add words to soften what they’ve just said, or to prepare people for the harshness of the news. I notice the wordiness tendency most in Annual Reports.

  3. I ruthlessly seek and destroy “that,” but I’ll bet I have prepositional phrases running rampant. (I almost added either “in my work” or “in my prose,” but wouldn’t that illustrate the point?) Thanks for posting this one.

  4. I definitely abuse the prepositional phrase, but, perversely, I consciously learned to do so when writing for work. Because much of my work writing involves responding to antagonistic or politically difficult material, I pad my sentences with excess phrasing to soften the impact of my often blunt points. It’s difficult to shake the habit when I’m writing in other circumstances, though.

Comments are closed.