Self-editing for the Know-It-All Author: Reducing Prepositional Phrases

Self-editing for the Know-It-All Author
Reducing Prepositional Phrases

Has an editor or critique partner recommended you tighten your sentences? Have you wondered how when you edited to the bare bones? Think again. You may have a case of surplus prepositional phrases. Deleting them won’t damage the beauty and flow of your well-thought and over-revised sentences or plot. Your sentences will be stronger and clearer. The reader will easily visualize and grasp the meaning.

A prepositional phrase is a preposition + an article + a noun. Their function is to clarify or provide context.

“In 1982 or 1983, after Zahira finished her Ph.D. dissertation on the Prophet Muhammed and the psychology of Iranian Muslim leaders, we had a falling out about several missing antiquities, and she returned to her home city outside Tehran in Iran. What happened to her after I have no idea.”

The first sentence is cluttered with prepositional phrases. Most aren’t relevant to the reader’s understanding of Zahira or the storyline of Moses & Mac. I can safely delete five.

“In 1982 or 1983, after Zahira finished her Ph.D. dissertation, we had a falling out and she returned to Iran. What happened to her after I have no idea.”

Sometimes we use a prepositional phrase without the noun. With or without the noun, if the meaning is clear, delete the rest of the phrase.

I liked Rania’s spirit, fully agreed with her, but couldn’t deal with her now.
I liked Rania’s spirit, fully agreed, but couldn’t deal with her now.

End-of-sentence prepositional phrases that use a pronoun instead of a noun can also be omitted if the reference is implied.

Sophie’s mother died twenty years before, but how could I explain it to her?
Sophie’s mother died twenty years before, but how could I explain it?

Did Prince Khalid expect me to sympathize with him?
Did Prince Khalid expect me to sympathize?

“So, tell us why we should be worried about them?”
“So, tell us why we should be worried?”

Avoid dangling end-of-sentence prepositions if they have no grammatical function.

The cave is where Sara put the antiquities in.
The cave is where Sara put the antiquities.
Better yet: Sara put the antiquities in the cave. (Active voice. Topic for another post.)

Other ways to reduce prepositional phrases? Rewrite those that indicate possession.

The door to the cockpit was semi-opened.
The cockpit door was semi-opened.

Or use the possessive form if possible.

The whereabouts of the rod was sent to the niece of Professor Sara Braden.”
“The rod’s whereabouts was sent to Professor Sara Braden’s niece.”

Avoid repeating prepositions and/or articles after conjunctions if you can.

I ran to the cave and to the tunnel.
I ran to the cave and tunnel.

If your sentence is in the passive form, rewrite it to the active for clarity and impact.

Moses’ rod was found by Sara Braden during the 1990s.
Sara Braden found Moses rod during the 1990s.

Check if you need the prepositional phrase. (And, yes, I’ve unknowingly used this in my writing.)

Mackenzie held the figurine in her hand.
Mackenzie held the figurine.

By reducing surplus prepositional phrases your sentences will be stronger, flow more fluidly, and help the reader better visualize the action. You’ll also have one very happy editor.

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