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Clearing prepositional clutter

Tighten it up!

The most frequent prepositional sin is to replace one good, terse word with a stack of prepositional phrases. The worst prepositional train wrecks crop up in legal writing, with its hereinbelows, with respect theretos, and thereins. But lawyers are hardly the only offenders. Have you ever counted the number of ways windy writers and speakers avoid the direct adverb now?

• as of now
• at present
• at this point in time
• for the time being
• in this day and age
• in the not-too-distant future

Of course, none of these beats Alexander Haig’s all-time worst way not to say now: “at this juncture of maturization.”

Anytime you can replace a cluster of words with one elegant one, do it. Use before instead of “prior to” or “in advance of”. Use because instead of “due to the fact that” or “in light of the fact that”. Use imagination rather than “in the eye of the mind” and my thinking instead of “I’m thinking in the direction of”. Scour your writing for prepositional barnacles worthy only of being scraped away, and replace them with simpler words:

in regard to → about
with reference to → about
the approximate amount of → about
in the interest of → for
for the purpose of → for
in order to → to
in the event that → if
a lot of → many
a great number of → many
the reason is because → because
according as to whether → whether
neat in appearance → neat

Many setups can be replaced by a simpler, shorter word: “He was conveyed to his place of residence in an intoxicated condition” is itself reeling with prepositions; “He was carried home drunk” is better.

(Also,) beware of the parasitic of, which sucks blood from the following phrases:

• How big of a deal was her departure?
• She wasn’t that good of an editor.
• He gave all of his property.
• Outside of the office, he was a real card.
• Get down off of that table if you expect me to come home with you.

Source: Constance Hale, “Sin and Syntax”

1 comment… add one
  • vincenzo August 21, 2007, 2:34 pm

    at present = “presently”
    with regard to = regarding
    the approximate amount of (who ever said this?) = approximately
    according as to whether = !!! i’ve never heard anything in that league of pomposity.
    a great number of = numerous

    my personal favorite is: “the reason is is that…”
    i’ve heard many multimillion-dollar big-firm lawyers speak that way, and always wondered what their clients saw in them. how to sound like a dummy in 30 seconds or less…

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