Impede and Impinge

By Maeve Maddox

A reader questions the use of the preposition on after impede in a newspaper headline:

I don’t think “on” is needed or correct [in this headline]: “Washington’s weeklong power outage impeding on Thanksgiving.” I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The reader is correct. Impede does not take a preposition. Here are examples of correct usage:

Flamingo Road construction will impede traffic through 2016

Natural selection, key to evolution, also can impede formation of new species.

Do emotions impede logic or do emotions contribute to being rational?

Five Negative Thoughts that Impede Weight Loss

In each example, impede is a transitive verb followed by a direct object.

Impede combines the Latin negative prefix im- with the Latin word for foot. The meaning of Latin impedire is “to shackle the feet.”

The English transitive verb impede means, “to retard in progress or action by putting obstacles in the way; to obstruct; to hinder; to stand in the way of.”

The person who wrote “Washington’s weeklong power outage impeding on Thanksgiving” may have been reaching for impinging.

Latin impingere means “to push, strike, drive [something] at or into something else.

A common meaning of the English verb impinge is “to encroach or infringe on or upon.” When that’s the meaning, impinge is followed by the preposition on (or upon):

But at what point does my freedom to act impinge on your freedom?

I don’t care what they do in their private lives just as long as they don’t impinge on my rights. 

Is it acceptable to impinge on certain civil liberties for the sake of national security?

Is it possible to set up quiet areas without impinging on playground space?

Dido Sued for Impinging on an Astronaut’s Persona

The noise from next door was impinging upon my concentration.

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2 Responses to “Impede and Impinge”

  • venqax

    Once again we have 2 questions, one routine and one with very disturbing implications. First, does impede take a preposition? The answer is No, it does not. The second, Why does a paid professional headline writer not know this?

  • Rich Wheeler

    Headline writing is the original Twitter. It’s often necessary to mangle a sentence to fit the space. In this case, the writer may have meant,

    “Washington’s weeklong power outage impeding [celebration] on Thanksgiving.”

    In a city that depends on traffic lights to facilitate flow, a power outage can have a severe impact on transportation. After the Loma Prieta earthquake knocked out power in San Jose, I remember it taking three hours to drive seven miles home from work — and most of that was on freeways! Therefore, the headline writer might also have meant,

    “Washington’s weeklong power outage impeding [traffic, and therefore shopping and family get-togethers] on Thanksgiving.”

    Also, if the omission of the direct object of “impeding” bothers us so much, then we should be equally bothered by the omission of the helping verb that ought to precede it.

    Mangled headlines are fun to collect, but mangled English frightens me more when it appears in the article.

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