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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Reader Question: Prepositional Phrases

Here's an excellent question from a reader named John:

"I have trained myself out of passive voice--mostly--and now find that trains of prepositional phrases is my favorite way of turning a six word thought into a 12 word sentence. The easiest way out of this is noun pairs (in the center of the town becomes in the town center). Often that doesn't sound quite right in the sentence, and I know that recasting the sentence is what is really needed. Suggestions?"

John is right that prepositional phrases can unnecessarily lengthen a sentence:

"The shoes of the man fell off" is a lot wordier than "The man's shoes fell off."

Therefore, I do suggest that you replace prepositional phrases where it makes sense. As for recasting the sentence, that is another good idea that can help you shorten, shorten, shorten. For example, "The meaning of his words was lost when the train blew past him" is pretty wordy. You can take the essence of your idea and recast it: "The train drowned out his words."

When you're first learning to cut prepositional phrases, you can simply search for "of" in your word-processing program. Then you can determine which cases of "of" are wordy and then cut, cut, cut.


Aspiring Writer said...

I don't completely agree. Sometimes, when it's important to set a certain style and mood, an absolute devotion to minimizing wordiness can leave a piece lacking personality. I'd suggest a compromise regarding the train sentence: "The train blew past him, drowning out his words."

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Sure. Don't just automatically cut words if it makes your piece choppy. It's just that lots of extra prepositions creep in and start making prose wordy. I sometimes use Word's search feature and look for "of." You'd be surprised at how many I find.