Section 2.6

Excessive Use of Prepositional Phrases

A prepositional phrase consists of two parts: (1) a preposition and (2) the object of the preposition, which is a noun or pronoun, accompanied by any modifiers. Following are some examples of prepositional phrases:


in the conference room

under the rug

near the birch tree

over my head

during John’s meeting

before your call

Some writers have a tendency to overuse prepositional phrases, repeatedly stringing together four, five, or even more in a row. They are often motivated by the desire to convey a lot of information quickly, but the result can be a meandering sentence structure that is difficult to follow. Try reading the following sentence aloud (prepositional phrases are indicated with parentheses):

The first half (of the new book) (by Roberta Durang) (about the early history) (of XYZ Corporation), one (of the first high-tech companies) (in Arkansas), includes some remarkable stories (of industry-transforming technological innovation).

Now read aloud this revised version, which breaks the original sentence into two:

XYZ Corporation was one (of the first high-tech companies) (in Arkansas). (In her new book) (on the company’s early history), writer Roberta Durang tells some remarkable stories (of industry-transforming technological innovation).

The new version is much easier to follow. Dividing the original sentence improves readability, as does reducing the number of consecutive prepositional phrases. Whereas the first example contains an awkward cluster of six prepositional phrases, the second has eliminated this awkwardness. In addition, even though the revised example contains two sentences, it is shorter by two words than the original one-sentence version.

Increasing the number of sentences can sometimes actually help you reduce the overall number of words!