Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Editing Ninja: Prepositional Abuse

I'm always troubled when I read prose which abuses the lowly preposition.

"I turned my head up and looked at her."

"I ended up looking at my feet."

"He stared the other man down."

Prepositions (most of them) require the presence of an object (noun or pronoun) to make a complete prepositional phrase in standard usage. As a phrase, they may function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs--the preposition itself denotes temporal, spatial, or logical relationship (e.g., it shows where the object "is" in space or time).

In sentence one, there is no object. A reader asks herself, "Up where?"

A suggested revision: "I turned and looked at her." Less words (usually) = better sentence.

In sentence two... Well, let's just say it doesn't work.

A suggested revision: "In the end, I looked at my feet." Or "I eventually looked at my feet."

While we use the phrase "stare down" in common language, it bothers me. I still want to ask myself, "Down where?"

A suggested revision: "He stared at the other man." Or "He stared until the other man flinched."

Please take care of your prepositions. They're like delicate flowers.

5 comments:

R. Scott McCoy said...

I'm a preposition Pimp! Are you looking for something...special?

Milo James Fowler said...

Ah yes, sensei, but a preposition without an object is no preposition at all; it's an adverb showing location.

And we all know what "they" say about using too many adverbs...

Helen Hanson said...

I understand the subordinate conjunction because the Ninja explained it so clearly.

Domo arigato.

Aaron Polson said...

Scott - Only if you're wearing your special purple pimp suit.

Milo - The land of grammar is filled with both smoke and fog. (bows)

Helen - Domo right back atcha.

Danielle Ferries said...

Oooh, I find those "sometimes" when I am editing my work :)