5 Ways to Minimize Prepositional Phrases

By Mark Nichol

A prepositional phrase is a series of words beginning with a preposition and providing additional information in a sentence that pertains to position (hence the word preposition) or relationship; the phrase “with a preposition” is itself a prepositional phrase. Though such phrases are not inherently undesirable, they are often easily avoidable contributors to compositional clutter. This post lists and describes five strategies for eliminating prepositional phrases by omission or alteration.

1. Use Active Voice
A prepositional phrase beginning with by often signals an opportunity to convert a passively constructed sentence into active voice (and render it more concise), as when “The action was seen by observers as nothing more than a delaying tactic” is revised to “Observers saw the action as nothing more than a delaying tactic.”

2. Omit Prepositions
Many nouns pertaining to a characteristic or a quality are nominalizations, or buried verbs, which are valid words but should be used in moderation, if at all, because they encourage verbose and overly formal composition. The sentence “They conducted an investigation of the incident,” for example, becomes more concise when one converts the noun investigation into its verb form and alters the rest of the sentence accordingly: “They investigated the incident.” (This strategy reduces the three-word prepositional phrase by only the preposition itself, but it further simplifies—and shortens—what comes before.)

3. Omit Prepositional Phrases
In the sentence “John Smith is the best runner on the team,” the prepositional phrase “on the team” may already be apparent from the context, so consider omitting it: “John Smith is the best runner.”

4. Use Adverbs in Place of Prepositional Phrases
Just as conversion of a nominalization into a verb can render a prepositional phrase unnecessary, such a phrase can be eliminated by changing an adjective to an adverb and further revising the sentence accordingly: “Jane stared at him with a quizzical expression” becomes “Jane stared at him quizzically” (or even, by omitting the sentence’s other prepositional phrase, “Jane stared quizzically”).

5. Use Genitives in Place of Prepositional Phrases
A genitive, or possessive, can substitute for a prepositional phrase beginning with of, as when “John sensed the annoyance of his teacher when he offered yet another glib excuse” is revised to “John sensed his teacher’s annoyance when he offered yet another glib excuse.”

Recommended for you: « »



3 Responses to “5 Ways to Minimize Prepositional Phrases”

  • D.A.W.

    At the time of the Battle of Britain, the United States was officially a neutral country, and so the U.S. Army Air Forces were not involved. Still, this did not prevent some American volunteer airmen from joining the Royal Canadian Air Force or the Royal Air Force and hence going to Britain to fight on the side of the British (over England and Scotland, mostly). If there were any obstacles, they could just pretend to be Canadians.
    Also, all the way through World War II, the Republic of Ireland was a neutral country. Ireland even had diplomats in Berlin, Rome, etc. This did not prevent many, many Irishmen from volunteering for the British Army, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Navy to help defend Britain, invade France & Belgium, and invade Nazi Germany.

  • D.A.W.

    Allow me to be repetitive on this cause:
    “First things first” is often an important concept and important practice.
    On the other hand, in “elevated discourse” there is the concept of the “periodic sentence”. In one of these, the crux of the sentence is delay as much as possible to the end. When the time arose, one of the masters of this was Winston Churchill.
    In 1940, Churchill said it so well with a periodic sentence:
    “Never in the course of human events,
    has so much been owed, by so many, to so few.”
    “The Few” were the fighter pilots who defended the United Kingdom for the aerial blitz of the Nazi German Luftwaffe.
    It is important to know that those scarce pilots were not entirely British. A high percentage of them, and the best of the best, were Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Irishmen, and even Americans, and with a sprinkling of Aussies, Belgians, Czechs, Danes, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, Greeks, Kenyans, Norwegians, Poles, Rhodesians, and Tanganyikans (Tanzanians now, since Zanzibar is included in that country).

  • D.A.W.

    I disagree sincerely!
    1. Use Active Voice
    A prepositional phrase beginning with by often signals an opportunity to convert a passively constructed sentence into active voice (and render it more concise), as when “The action was seen by observers as nothing more than a delaying tactic” is revised to “Observers saw the action as nothing more than a delaying tactic.”

    Many times in thinking and in writing, “First things first” is an important concept and important practice.
    A. Perhaps “The action” (whatever it was) is the most important item in the whole sentence, and in the whole discussion; hence put it FIRST. Perhaps whoever did the “observing” is completely secondary or tertiary. Maybe we do not give a hoot who did the observing.
    B. Perhaps the crux of the sentence is in the concept of “delaying tactic”. Maybe that is the crucible that makes everyone boiling mad! Therefore: “This arrant delaying tactic of an action was seen by all observers as infuriating!” (disgusting, repulsive, asinine,…)

Leave a comment: