Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Minimize prepositional phrases

Today we pass along Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

The Preposition Quotient.

In lean writing, it's a good idea to minimize prepositional phrases. In flabby prose, a ratio of one preposition for every four words is common; in better, leaner writing, the quotient is more like one preposition for every 10-15 words.

Five editorial methods can tighten sentences marred with too many prepositions.
  1. The prepositional phrase can be deleted as surplusage; for example, it's often possible in a given context to change a phrase such as "senior vice president of the corporation" to "senior vice president" -- if the corporate context is already clear.

  2. Uncovering buried verbs often eliminates as many as two prepositions each time; thus, "is in violation of" becomes "violates."

  3. It's sometimes possible to replace a prepositional phrase with an adverb; so "she criticized the manuscript with intelligence" becomes "she criticized the manuscript intelligently."

  4. Many prepositional phrases resolve themselves into possessives; thus, "for the convenience of the reader" becomes "for the reader's convenience."

  5. And finally, a change from passive voice to active often entails removing a preposition; so "the ball was hit by Jane" becomes "Jane hit the ball."

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