As we continue our series on reducing wordiness and improving your writing, we will shift our focus to the dreadful prepositions that plague everyone! For many of you reading our posts, English is a second language, and we can imagine how much you despise memorizing prepositional phrases. Well, we’ve got a bit of good news for you! One of the best ways to reduce word count and tighten your sentences is ELIMINATING prepositions. Yup, that’s right. You can skip these horrid parts of speech and save yourself the headache of trying to figure out if the right phrase includes “on” or “of!”
Tip # 2: Eliminating Prepositional Phrases
Let’s look at the following examples:
- The blood pressure of the mice was elevated.
- The elephant teetered along the edge of the cliff.
- The focus of this project was to study the effects of increased global temperatures on local fish hatcheries.
What’s wrong with the above sentences? Grammatically, they’re correct. But they’re super wordy, aren’t they? In each phrase, we can eliminate prepositions to shorten them.
- The blood pressure of the mice was elevated. [8 words]
- The elephant teetered along the edge of the cliff. [9 words]
- The focus of this project was to study the effects of increased global temperatures on local fish hatcheries. [19 words]
Above, we highlighted the prepositions we can delete in red.
- The mice’s blood pressure was elevated. [6 words]
- The elephant teetered along the cliff’s edge. [7 words]
- This project examined how increased global temperatures affect local fish hatcheries. [11 words]
As in the examples above, you could shorten your word count by two words for each prepositional phrase you eliminate. Imagine a page filled with prepositional phrases like the ones above. That’s a lot of words you could delete!
There are many scenarios in which prepositions can be omitted. You saw a few of these cases above. Another situation is one you learned recently in our article on eliminating nominalizations. If you may recall, nominalizations often create passive voice structures!
For those of you wanting to learn how to avoid or replace prepositional phrases, the following is a list of common situations in which you should revise prepositional phrases and how you can do so.
1) Be possessive: In many situations where there is a close connection, like a possessive relationship between two nouns, you can eliminate the preposition. For example, if you have “Noun1 of Noun 2,” or “Location1 in Location2,” take the second noun and move it before the first noun and add an apostrophe to create a possessive form for the second noun.
- The approval of the Food and Drug Administration was received yesterday. → The Food and Drug Administration’s approval was received yesterday.
- The studies were conducted at Max Laboratories in Chicago. → The studies were conducted at Chicago’s Max Laboratories.
2) Be active: When a passive construction is followed by “by” (Noun1 was/were + past participle + by + Noun2), take the second noun and make it the subject of a sentence using active voice.
- The approval of the plan was given by the committee. → The committee approved the plan yesterday.
3) Choose adverb substitutes: Some prepositional phrases, like those starting with “with,” can be converted to stronger adverbs.
- The seller agreed with reluctance. → The seller reluctantly agreed.
- He spoke with hesitation when he accepted the deal. → He spoke hesitantly as he accepted the deal.
- By chance, I finished work on time. → Fortuitously, I finished work on time.
4) Replace with stronger verbs: Some prepositional phrases can simply be replaced with strong verbs. Watch for phrases using the verbs “get” and “make.”
- He got to the finish line. → He reached the finish line.
- Increased benefits can make up for long working hours. → Increased benefits can offset long working hours.
5) Avoid nominalizations (see the separate article we wrote on this topic. Click here for “Eliminating Nominalizations)
6) Was it really necessary? Some prepositional phrases can be deleted because they add no value to the sentence, given the context.
- In our current situation, we should decline the offer. → We should decline the offer.
7) Embrace the wh-clauses: With verbs dealing with “saying” (ask, say, admit, argue, reply, agree, mention, explain, suggest, etc.) or mental activities like thinking, studying, and deciding (e.g., know, understand, suppose, remember, forget, wonder, study, examine, decide, etc.), use the wh-question words to build strong, succinct clauses.
- The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of solar radiation on bioluminescence. → This study examined how solar radiation affects bioluminescence.
- Our mission was to conduct an investigation into the relationship between sunlight and plant growth. → We investigated how sunlight affects plant growth.
Now, let’s try a few exercises!
- The house of my mother sat on a big hill.
- The licensing of the software will be completed next week.
- The variables changed with little difference.
- The aim of our research was to assess the correlation between variable A and DNA replication rates.
- This paper was written to explore the way in which extra recess time and the test performance of students are related.
- To get back to you, we are looking back on what was done to figure out what we can do moving forward. [This one's hard. How short can you make this one?]
- My mother’s house sat on a big hill.
- The software licensing will be completed next week.
- The variables hardly changed.
- Our research aimed to assess how variable A affects DNA replication rates.
- This paper explores how extra recess time affects students’ test performance.
- We are examining the past to determine how we should proceed.