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5 Ways to Minimize Prepositional Phrases

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

Keeping your writing in active voice is the best way to keep your work fresh and interesting.


 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

Use this recommendation with care. Too many adverbs (ly) words can make your verb usage weak. In this instance, search Roget’s International Thesaurus for a stronger verb that does not require a supporting adverb.


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.”

From: Daily Writing Tips

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You Know It’s Creative Writing When…

Five fundamental elements are the clearest way to distinguish between well-written non-creative writing and creative writing. You can write about the same subject matter in a different way, but creative writers will use poetic license and storytelling tools to bring a story to life.

1. It’s told from a specific point of view

Point of view humanizes a narrative by offering personal insights and perspectives. Unlike news reporting, which aims to be impartial and objective, creative writing leans into the fact that each writer has a unique personality, and uses this to its advantage. From using first person and owning your ‘I’ to express your feelings or experiences, to dramatizing the gaps of communication between characters in a fictional piece, contrasting viewpoints make a work ever more immersive, vivid, and inherently interesting to read.

Need an example? Take Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and contrast it with news accounts of the same murder. Capote’s book gives the reader a closer perspective of the killers, making an effort to understand them, whereas news reports simply list the facts in chronological order.

2. Its narrative structure is designed to engage readers

Fiction and nonfiction share an important unifying core: that of narrative structure. Both use the principles of storytelling to express events, realizations, or complicated plots and subplots. Regardless of what happens in each narrative, the opening, ending, and in-between sections of a piece of writing need to be tightly structured for cohesion and coherence. 

A personal essay that does this well is Lilly Dancyger’s essay “Don’t Use My Family For Your True Crime Stories”. Instead of a chronological retelling of her cousin’s murder and her own subsequent grief and aversion to true crime writing, Dancyger opens by introducing the fact of the murder then briefly visits the present to explain her current feelings, before returning to the past to narrate how she and her family heard of Sabina’s murder. This structure allows the reader to empathize by mirroring the shock of death: being taken by surprise is followed by a need for facts and explanations. 

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

3. Tension is used to make readers feel invested

Whether the tension arises from an impending realization or comes in the form of suspense as the perpetrator of a crime is about to be revealed, the existence of tension means that a writer has managed to write something where the stakes are high, and the reader feels emotionally or intellectually invested. The Serial podcast, for example, does this particularly well, as it tells a true story in a serialized form with cliffhangers and a central mystery. 

4. A central theme is used to organize the narrative

Life, it must be said, is not quite as neat as literary theme analysis will have you think. Writing, however, tends to operate as an opportunity for thoughts, feelings, and events to be organized into information the reader can process. Because of this process of organizing thought, certain central themes appear in each work. In a memoir, for example, that might be the lessons someone has learned, or the principle they believe best represents their experiences. To give you an example, Michelle Obama’s aptly named Becoming keeps returning to the same conclusion after reviewing each of her experiences: that you, too, can become whatever you want, despite adversity. In this case, the story’s recurring themes are hope, growth, and perseverance in the face of discouragement. Unlike the dry Wikipedia page giving Michelle Obama’s biography, Becoming is a compelling piece of creative writing that tells a cohesive story by focusing on this central theme.

5. Literary devices are used freely

Imagine reading the newspaper and encountering a report of an accident that begins with this sentence:

 “The sun had just begun to awaken, emerging sleepily from the shadowy depths behind the skyscrapers and casting a pale yellow light onto the street when Yamada Kumiko had a terrible accident.” 

That’s a tad too poetic for a newspaper article, isn’t it? Aside from being tragically insensitive given the accident context, the reason this sentence feels so wrong is that it uses figurative language in a way that is not common for factual journalism. That’s because literary devices (and some rhetorical devices, too) are generally reserved for work considered to be creative writing, instead. Otherwise, it might feel a little bit like the writer is showing off in the wrong context — if your washing machine troubleshooting guide is all ornate turns of prose, something’s gone wrong (and your machine is likely to stay broken).

We hope this guide has armed you with the questions you need to ask if you’re ever unsure about whether something is considered to be ‘creative writing’ — why not turn your attention to trying creative writing yourself next? May your writing flow not like a faucet, but a waterfall: abundant, uninhibited, and breathtaking to all who behold it.

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Stay Trim and Tidy

Short, efficient sentences are easier to read. To get really concise, try the Hemingway Editor, an online editor or a Desktop package ($19.99) that will make your prose as linguistically efficient as the renowned author’s.

A few pro tips for trimming down the word count:

“That” is a word that you do not need. Take out the second “that” in the previous sentence, and it still makes perfect sense.

No need to use multiple syllables or extra words when one will do. “Utilize” → “Use.” “In order to” → “To.”

Be spartan with your adverbs and adjectives. Too many are distracting.

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Irregular Verbs

The simple answer is: Any verb that doesn’t follow standard rules of conjugation. Unfortunately, there are so many “irregular” verbs in the English language that the title doesn’t really make sense. These grammar anomalies have been lurking in plain sight for yearsand they might just come naturally to you, but we’re still going to take a closer look.

Irregular Verbs and the Past Tense

Typically, it’s correct (and easy enough) to say the past tense of a verb ends in an “-ed.” For example, “I drop the kids off in the morning” in the present tense becomes, “I dropped the kids off this morning.” Or, “I scrub the dishes,” in the present changes to “I scrubbed the dishes” in the past tense. Those two letters added to the end of a word are a pretty good indicator of past tense.

Then you come across a verb like “speak.” In the present tense, you’d say, “I speak.” In the past tense, you would not say, “I speaked.” Instead, you’d say, “I spoke.”

Boom. You’ve just found an irregular verb. As you might have guessed, irregular verbs break the standard rule of ending in “-ed” in the past tense.

To further confuse the issue, irregular verbs have no discernible pattern themselves. They’re just … irregular. These irregular verbs are some of the most commonly used in English — “go,” “say,” “see,” “think,” “make,” “take,” “come,” and “know.” These workhorse verbs take on different spellings in the past tense.

In general, irregular verbs are easy enough to spot in the past tense — if it doesn’t end in “-ed,” it’s irregular.

Spotting More Irregular Verbs

Test yourself: Which of these examples of irregular verbs are correct?

  1. She drunk the glass of water.
  2. The phone rung and rung.
  3. The pants shrunk in the dryer.

Answer: Only number three is correct. In one, the correct past tense is “drank,” and in number two, the phone “rang.”

It’s still quite easy to get confused by irregular verbs, especially when you look at the difference between simple past tense and past participles.

For example, “Stacy drived to the public pool where she swum for hours.” Hopefully this sounds wrong to your ears, because it’s just an irregular mess.

There are two irregular verbs in this example, but neither is correct. The first is obvious – “drived” attempts to follow the regular verb “-ed” ending. It sounds awkward, because it’s not a real word at all. The correct (irregular) past tense is “drove.”

The second one is a little trickier. “Swum” is in fact the past participle of the verb “to swim,” but it’s not the simple past, which is “swam.”

The correct version of Stacy’s day at the pool is, “Stacy drove to the public pool where she swam for hours.”

As confusing as irregular verbs may seem, they start to come naturally with practice. What irregular verbs do you still stumble over?

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The Dash Family’s Roles

From: Daily Writing Tips

The en dash is the oft-neglected middle sibling of the horizontal-line family of symbols that serve to connect words and numbers for various reasons.

The em dash (—) is the dashing member of the brood, used somewhat sparingly to indicate a sudden break in syntax—either to signal a shift in sentence construction, as here, or joining with a twin to frame a parenthetical word or phrase (just as a pair of commas would be used in the midst of a sentence or two parentheses would be employed anywhere).

The smallest, the hyphen (-), is the busiest, indicating connections between words, such as when the phrase “highest scoring” is hyphenated to signal its combined modification of the word that follows in the phrase “highest-scoring player” or to link two numbers in reference to a score or vote.

The en dash (–), however, sometimes steps in to take the place of the hyphen: It is employed when an open compound is part of the phrasal adjective, signaling that the entire compound, not just the last word in the compound, is linked to the next word, as in “Civil War–era artifacts” (rather than “Civil War-era” or “Civil-War-era”) or “Los Angeles–to–San Francisco flight” (rather than in “Los Angeles-to-San Francisco flight” or “Los-Angeles-to-San-Francisco flight”).

Note, however, that open compounds need not be proper nouns, as this quip about an advertising agency with a name consisting of a sequence of initials demonstrates: “This alphabet soup–named firm helps get clients on the gravy train.” If a hyphen were used in place of an en dash here, the reference would (confusingly) be to a soup-named agency of an alphabet nature. (Also, some publishers, presumably for aesthetic reasons, employ en dashes in place of em dashes.)

The other major function of an en dash, by the way, is to replace to to indicate a number range, as in “Answer quiz questions 1–10.” (Remember that because scores are not number ranges, a hyphen is the correct symbol for linking two totals.) In both types of usage, a hyphen is often erroneously employed in place of an en dash (though for the sake of simplicity, some publications, especially newspapers, deliberately avoid use of the en dash).

Also, note that although both hyphens and en dashes are employed as minus signs, the minus sign is technically a distinct symbol that in formal publishing is set using a distinct code. In informal usage, an en dash, more equivalent in size to plus and equal signs than a hyphen, is preferable.

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16 Substitutes for “Because” or “Because Of”

Many words or phrases can be used to set up an explanation. The most common is because (or “because of”), but others have their uses. Here are alternatives and a discussion of their uses and their merits.

1. As: As is a direct synonym for because (for example, “He opted not to go see the movie, as it had gotten poor reviews”), but it’s inferior.

2. As a result of: This phrase is a substitute for “because of,” not because, as in “As a result of his intervention, the case was reopened and they were ultimately exonerated.”

3. As long as: This informal equivalent of because is used to express the thought that given that one thing is occurring or will occur or is true, another is possible, in such statements as “As long as you’re going, could you pick some things up for me?”

4. Being as (or being as how or being that): This phrase has the same sense — and the same formality — as “as long as.”

5. Considering that: This phrase is essentially identical in meaning to “as long as” and “being as” and its variants.

6. Due to: Like “as a result of,” “due to” is a preposition, rather than a conjunction like because, and is used in place not of because alone but instead of “because of.” It applies specifically to an explanation of why something occurred or will or will not occur, as in “Due to the large number of applications, we cannot respond individually to each applicant.”

7. For: This substitute for because is reserved for poetic usage, as in “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

8. Inasmuch as: This phrase is a very formal equivalent of because, as in “Inasmuch as his account has been discredited, I wouldn’t believe anything else he says.”

9. In view of the fact that: This phrase is identical in sense to “inasmuch as.”

10. Now that: This phrase informally connotes cause and effect, as in “Now that you’re here, we can proceed.”

11. Out of: This phrase applies to explanations of emotion or feeling — for example, “She asked out of compassion” or “Out of spite, I refrained from passing the message along.”

12. Owing to: This phrase is equivalent to “due to”; the two choices are more formal than “because of.”

13. Seeing that: This phrase is identical to “considering that.”

14. Since: This alternative to because is informal and is considered inferior because since primarily refers to elapsed time and the usage might be confused, as in “Since it had rained, we didn’t need to water the garden”; the reader might not realize until reading the second half of the sentence that the sense is causal rather than temporal.

15. Thanks to: This equivalent of “because of,” despite the wording, can apply to either a positive or a negative outcome; “Thanks to your meddling, we’re receiving much unwanted attention” demonstrates the latter sense.

16. Through: Through is a preposition; it takes the place of “because of,” as in “Through the efforts of these charities, the city’s homeless services have been reinstated.”

From: Daily Writing Tips If you would like a subscription to Daily Writing Tips please go to https://www.dailywritingtips.com/pro/?r=nal

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Have you ever heard of Scare Quotes?

Framing a word or phrase in scare quotes, or quotation marks used for emphasis, can be an effective tool for signaling editorial distance—that is, subtly and succinctly clarifying that the word or phrase is not of the writer’s choosing or that it is euphemistic or otherwise specious or spurious. However, too often, scare quotes are gratuitous or redundant, as shown in the examples below:

1. They must look to the senior management to help them acquire this “big picture” view.

This sentence features gratuitous use of scare quotes—gratuitous, because the writer seems to mistakenly assume that any idiom, no matter how quotidian, must be enclosed in quotation marks to signal that the meaning is not literal. The marks are unnecessary with most established idiom: “They must look to the senior management to help them acquire this big-picture view.”

2. The guidelines set forth the separate responsibilities for management and so-called “front-line” units.

Here, the scare quotes are redundant. The quotation marks serve to inform the reader that the writer did not generate a word or phrase; rather, he or she is merely reporting a usage that someone else employed. But so-called signals this fact to the reader, so it is superfluous to use scare quotes as well. When such redundancy occurs, the writer (or editor) should opt to delete the scare quotes and retain so-called: “The guidelines set forth the separate responsibilities for management and so-called front-line units.”

3. That same budget funded quote-unquote “crisis pregnancy centers.”

Using the phrase quote-unquote in speech is understandable, because scare quotes are not visible in speech—another approach is to use air quotes, hand gestures that suggest quotation marks—but in writing, doing so is an intrusive alternative to so-called: “That same budget funded so-called crisis pregnancy centers.” (In this case, however, because the writer is criticizing the use of the euphemistic phrase “crisis pregnancy centers” for a type of facility associated with deceptive advertising and misleading information, use of scare quotes in lieu of so-called is also appropriate.)

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Parentheses

Parentheses serve several specific functions, but their general purpose is to set a grammatical unit of content off from the surrounding text. The parenthesized material can range from a single letter, numeral, or other symbol to an entire sentence. (Because enclosing more than one complete sentence in parentheses overextends the digression, it is not recommended.) Here is a summary of ways to deploy parentheses.

First, a definition of terms: Parenthesis denotes a single parenthetical mark, but it can also refer to a digression, interlude, or interval enclosed in parentheses or other pairs of punctuation marks, such as commas, dashes, or brackets. The first of two parenthetical marks is an open parenthesis, and the second is a close parenthesis. The pair together are called parentheses.

A parenthesis of an entire sentence can be inserted within another sentence, but omit a period after the parenthesized sentence (However, an exclamation point or question mark is acceptable!) to avoid confusion. (A complete sentence may also follow the terminal punctuation of the preceding sentence; in that case, include a period—or another terminal punctuation mark—immediately before the close parenthesis.) An incomplete sentence within parentheses is not punctuated with a period, but, again, an exclamation point or question mark is allowed.

When providing an explanation or an example, the additional information can be enclosed in parentheses. Note in the following sentence how a parenthesis of a parenthesis should be formatted. (The abbreviations e.g. [“for example”] and i.e. [that is”] generally precede such information in formal and scholarly prose; in more casual contexts, the phrases are employed.) This is general American English style; British English style (and legal style and style for some other contexts) is parentheses within parentheses.

Parentheses enclose the abbreviation of an acronym or initialism after the spelled-out name of an agency, company, or organization to inform the reader about how the entity will be identified on subsequent references: “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909.” (Note that the article the is not repeated in the parenthesis, but it should precede the initialism when it appears again.)

Parentheses are used to enclose a note when a reader is directed to a cross-reference or when a writer glosses (presents a brief definition of) a term, provides a citation for a quotation or a fact or figure, points out that he or she has used italics to emphasize part of a quoted passage, or otherwise annotates a quotation.

Note that the location of the parenthesis in the following sentence is awkward: “Consider whether a ‘risk expert’ should serve on the committee (i.e., someone with a background in risk management or oversight relevant to the nature of the organization’s operations).” Parenthesized annotation, just like additional information enclosed in a pair of commas or dashes, should immediately follow the relevant word or phrase, as here: “Consider whether a ‘risk expert’ (i.e., someone with a background in risk management or oversight relevant to the nature of the organization’s operations) should serve on the committee.”

Back-to-back parenthesis is acceptable, but this can be avoided by combining two pieces of information into one parenthesis divided by a semicolon or by reorganizing the framing text to separate the two parenthetical comments.

When the items in a run-in list (a list appearing within a sentence rather than formatted vertically) are numbered, they should be enclosed in a pair of parentheses (not with a close parenthesis only)—as in “The three types of rocks are (1) igneous, (2) metamorphic, and (3) sedimentary”—but numbering is seldom necessary.

Use parentheses in moderation; excessive deployment of the symbols can give text a cluttered appearance (note their ubiquity in this post) and result in an obstacle-ridden narrative flow. Often, a pair of commas will suffice in their place, and dashes are appropriate when abruptly interjecting additional information, especially when the writer wants to give an impression of sudden interruption rather than unassuming interpolation.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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15 Reduplicative Doublets

Reduplicative doublets are a small class of idioms in which a word is repeated after the conjunction and; such repetition is intended to provide an emphatic boost to a statement. Here are fifteen such constructions with definitions and sample sentences.

1. Again and again: repeatedly (“I practiced the maneuver again and again so that I didn’t have to think about what I was doing”)

2. By and by (or by-and-by): later, or eventually (“I think he’ll come around to our way of thinking by and by”)

3. Done and done: done thoroughly and satisfactorily (“The team avenged its loss with a decisive victory — done and done”)

4. Ever and ever: always, or seemingly so (“I had to wait for ever and ever for my car to get fixed”)

5. Half and half: in equal parts; also, a food or drink made of two often equal ingredients, or a mixture of cream and milk, or a person of dual nationality or mixed ethnicity (“She likes half and half in her coffee”)

6. Hot-and-hot: multiple courses of food served individually as soon as cooked (“The catered meal was served hot-and-hot”)

7. Less and less: increasingly less, progressively decreasing, or decreasingly true or prevalent (“I’m less and less confident of success as the days pass”)

8. More and more: increasingly more, progressively increasing, or increasingly true or prevalent (“It’s getting more and more difficult to find in stores”)

9. Neck and neck: very close in a contest or race, suggesting two horses whose necks are side by side (“The candidates are polling neck and neck lately”)

10. On and on: continuously (“The speaker droned on and on beyond her allotted time”)

11. Out-and-out: complete or utter (“That’s an out-and-out lie!”)

12. Over and over: repeatedly (“He said it over and over, to make sure I understood”)

13. So-and-so (or so and so): a placeholder name for a person (often initial-capped), a placeholder word for one or more things, or a euphemism for an offensive epithet (“I talked to So-and-so — that guy over there”)

14. Such-and-such: a placeholder for a thing or action (“If you were to go to such-and-such a place, you’d find the building”)

15. Through and through: see out-and-out (“He’s a loser through and through”)

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Onomatopoeia

How do you represent various sounds in writing? The term for vocal (and written) imitation of sounds, onomatopoeia, means “to make names.” (The word, a Latinization of a Greek word, consists of the term that is also the origin of name, nominal, and the like and the one from which poem and poet are derived.) But making names is complicated by the fact that spelling of sounds is arbitrary.

Various languages represent common sounds with uncommonly assorted words. What in English would be spelled chomp or munch is in Indonesian krauk and in Japanese musha-musha. Shh, or hush, is translated as psszt in Hungarian and cht in Spanish. Achoo! is spelled apchix in Bulgarian and achhee! in Hindi. Sometimes — for instance, because a frog in one country is a different species from one in another country and therefore may actually make a different sound — this variation is logical. But often (look up the various representations for meow around the world) the differences are perplexing.

But even within one language, a writer is challenged by the ambiguity of sounds. How, exactly, does one spell a yell? That word itself is onomatopoeic, but “Yell!” is not a yell. A cry of anger is distinct from one of fear. And an exclamation of pain could be spelled starting with an a (“Aughhh!”), an o (“Owww!”), or a y (“Yeow!”).

Some variation from what a reader may be accustomed to is reasonable: If I routinely spelled an archvillain’s triumphant evil laugh “Bwah-hah-hah!” I would be distracted but not derailed to see it treated as “Muah-ha-ha!” But “Myau” would not alert me to the presence of a cat; in English, either the spelling above or the British English preference, miaow (or mew, a variation suggesting a gentler cry) is standard.

But how do I know that? The compositional catch-22 — “How can I look something up in the dictionary if I don’t know how to spell it?” — may come into play, especially when the word starts with a vowel. But that’s step number one: Look it up. Is a donkey’s bray spelled “Hee haw”? Type the word into Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, and you’ll learn whether your guess is validated. (In this case, English is in the minority among languages, most of which begin spelling of that sound with a vowel.) Or rely on your reading — whether your sources are science journals or comic books, some standard is likely to prevail.

Neologisms or words not generally granted legitimacy in writing (fuggedaboudit, anyone?) can be a challenge, but try an online search if you’re not sure. You’ll likely get a response for more than one alternative, but apply the quality test, not the quantity test: Judge the preferred spelling not on which is most frequent, but which is used on the most authoritative (or least questionable) sites.

But in the right circumstance, go ahead and take a chance. If you desire, for example, that a character respond to another’s cattiness, a flat utterance of “Meow” may convey the first person’s cynical understatement, whereas “Reerrrrrrrrrrr!” will, despite its lack of resemblance to the standard spelling, clearly evoke an unambiguous judgment about the second character’s provocative statement or behavior.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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