Eliminate Excess Prepositions

My son Chris in the tree.

When I draft my writing, I pay no attention to prepositions–words that help us place things spatially. Of, to, for, from, about, under, over are examples of prepositions, although there are many more. When we link them with nouns (persons places or things), a prepositional phrase is created.
Writing Tip for Today: Prepositions are essential. But watch for these unnecessary uses which can clog up your prose:

  • Embrace Ownership. When you write “The collar belonged to the dog,” you can easily switch to a contraction to mean ownership. “The dog’s collar” is simpler and keeps wordiness at bay. “She was the biggest fan of the rock star.” “She was the rock star’s biggest fan.” Doesn’t always work, but try on the apostrophe where you can instead of a bulky prepositional phrase.
  • Beware the Maze. If you string several prepositional phrases together in the same sentence, you may not only confuse your readers, you may give them headaches. “He went under the arbor, through the alley, around the oak tree, beneath the bridge, through the water, past the stranger”–by now you can’t visualize the sequence. Separate more than three prepositional phrases into two or more sentences, to give readers a chance to absorb each motion.
  • Avoid Micro-managing. Prepositions can often be eliminated if you allow your readers to fill in a few blanks–especially on well-understood activities. For instance, if you write, “She walked out the door, turned and stuck her key in the lock, twisted it to lock the door and then jiggled the knob to be sure it was secure” can be shortened to:”She locked the door on her way out.” Another way to spot redundancies with prepositions is to look for places where you “show” and then “tell.” “He cleared his throat to get her attention.” Clearing one’s throat is showing how he got her attention. ‘To get her attention’ is redundant. Look for prepositional phrases that either micro-manage or explain (tell) when you’ve already shown: Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE) is a useful acronym.. 

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

5 comments on “Eliminate Excess Prepositions

  1. I’m a subscriber to your blog and appreciate your writing lessons. I especially like how you get right to the point. Now I must comment on the image: Is your son crazy, or what? I’ve watched timber fallers in action and I know this is NOT what you want to do. Just had to say something =)

    • Yes, Linda you are so right. My son got special permission to pose for this pic. He works for a tree service and they are very safety conscious. Readers, DON’T try this at home!
      Thanks for your comment.
      Keep Writing,

  2. Thanks for posting! Those pesky prepositions can really add unnecessary bulk to pages too. Even I catch myself doing this sometimes and it drives my editor crazy!

  3. Thanks for posting those funny prepositions that can add to the reader to further entice necessarily bulk on the pages also. Even once I’m myself doing it sometimes it drives my editor crazy!

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