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Writing Well

Do you know why it is dangerous to use too many prepositions in a sentence?

Because they help you cram way too much information between a capital letter and period.

Prepositions connect nouns or pronouns to other words. There are about 50 prepositions and, whether you realize it or not, you already know them all.  Another way to define prepositions is "any place a rat can run".  (The only exception to this is of.) 

Prepositions connect pieces of information in sentences with amazing agility.  This agility is both their strength and their weakness. They are so handy that they enable writers to compose gems like this:


Consolidated accounts receivable totaled $22,232M with $1677M or 7.4% in excess of 90 days from invoice date compared to accounts receivable totaling $19,333M with $1,135M or 5.8% in excess of 90 days from invoice date at 12/31/15.
 
This sentence is part of a work sample submitted by a participant in one of our writing workshops.  (He wrote it before he took the class.)  The prepositions in the offending sentence are: with, in, of, from, to, with, or, in, of, from, at.  That’s 11 prepositions.  Remember that the optimal average length for a sentence is around 20 words.  Woops. When people end up with sentences so long and convoluted that even their writers cannot remember their original idea, prepositional phrases are often the culprits.
There are three reasons why it is dangerous to use too many prepositions in a sentence.

1.         Grammatically, prepositions are weak. 
The strong parts of your sentences are the subject and the predicate.  Yet it is very tempting to keep on stuffing information into the sentence with words like of, in, and at.  The danger is that you will put an important piece of information into a phrase that is grammatically insignificant.  This raises the likelihood that the reader will scoot past it without realizing its importance.

2.   Prepositions are like masking tape; they hold things together but they’re not strong. Look at this masterpiece:
Our property is located in the vicinity of public schools and at the corner of two main streets of the city, in the neighborhood of two major malls, at which a variety of items can be bought. 
So much information hanging on the essential sentence property is.
 
3.   Prepositions make it easy make basic grammar errors.  
The vase of flowers are on the table. The subject of this sentence is vase; it requires the singular verb is. If a sentence contains several prepositional phrases, it is easy to lose track of the grammatical subject of the sentence and become confused about whether to use a singular or plural verb.   
 
 Prepositions are like sugar; it is easy to sprinkle them on everything, but they don’t necessarily improve your finished product.
 
Bonus: List of Prepositions
Rats can run:
 
aboard, about, above, across, after, against, along, amid, among, around, as, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, besides, between, beyond, by, despite, down, during, except, excepting, excluding, following, for, from, in, inside, into, near, of, off, on, onto, opposite, outside, over, past, plus, round, save, since, than, through, to, toward, under, underneath, until, up, upon, versus, via, with, within, without – and all of these are prepositions.
 

© Elizabeth Danziger 2016

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Why choose WorkTalk trainings?

  • Taught by a professional writer. +

    These courses are not taught by a general skills trainer who happens to teach writing. Elizabeth Danziger has been published by major publishing houses such as Random House and Harcourt Brace. Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is an expert writer and editor who brings her knowledge as a resource to participants.
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    Every Worktalk training is customized to the client's needs. We meet with you, analyze writing samples from your organization, and customize our training to target the specific challenges that employees in your organization face.
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    With plenty of exercises and opportunities for interaction, the Worktalk trainings move quickly. Subjects that were terrifying in grammar school become fun and interesting in these outstanding programs.
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    In trainings all over the country, Ms. Danziger has enabled participants to streamline their organizing process, eliminate persistent errors, and drastically cut their revision time. Clients spend less time on key communications while producing better relationships and results. Sales people get more positive responses from prospects.
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