How To Kill Your Prepositions

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Artist Anna JanosikWhat’s a preposition for? (Heh 🙂 )

Yes to these:

“She was walking on the platform.”

“We watched him shave, thinking it had been about time he did something with that beard.”

After what seemed like an eternity, the child lifted the chest out of the water and the screaming began.”

 

No to these

“Devinshire 7 was the platform she was walking on.”

“We watched him shave, finally getting rid of the beard he had been thinking about.”

“The child lifted the chest out of the water, and the screaming continued ever after.”

 

The use of prepositions at the end of sentences do not elevate our writing.

No Excuses

I know all the excuses for their use at the end of sentences and the arguments coming from Latin grammar and the like—in truth, I’ve tried to use them myself against the fire of my editor.

I have since seen things her way, and I do believe it is a way that elevates my writing, as it will yours.

But don’t take my word for it, look up Stephen King interviews and prepositions where he adds a couple of things he would’ve put in his book On Writing: “…’Don’t write long books, because the critics rip them,’ and, ‘Don’t end sentences with a preposition.’ Which I might have said in On Writing!”

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb if I claim that people who use prepositions at the end of sentences are either unaware of them, don’t care about them, or are too lazy to do anything about them.

Awareness is easy. I started this blog with some examples. I can’t do much if you simply don’t care about them in your end-of-sentence writing. But perhaps I can do something about those people who might be just a bit lazy (or who want to use the Latin arguments to justify your laziness).

My own goal in writing has always been one of trying to reach a level of ease and clarity for my readers. It is an ongoing process and a valuable one.

Think of keeping end-of-sentence prepositions as a mark of laziness. Not one to be considered lazy by any means, I took to the reduction and restructuring of my sentences so that I wouldn’t put myself in that category—and no one else would be able to use that as a means to describe me so.

Things To Remember

• There are always better, or at least different, ways to close your sentences without changing their meaning.

 

Preposition ending example 1

“He brought out the best in her, sharing the best of himself in a manner she could be proud of.”

 

Restructured

“He brought out the best in her, sharing the best of himself in a manner in which she could be proud.”

 

I don’t know about you, but the first example feels not only a little lazy, but a little dingy, also; subpar to what I am capable. There is nothing changed in the meaning of the second sentence, the thought is carried through, and it has a cleaner feel with little effort.

 

Example 2

“Master Edgar ignored the rest of Royling Cadeen’s rambling and turned to Keena who had followed him in.”

 

Restructured

“Master Edgar ignored the rest of Cadeen’s rambling and turned to Keena, who had followed him.”

 

This last one more closely followed a colloquial pattern of speech, that, to my ear, sounded right, but in the end, the preposition wasn’t necessary.

 

Example 3

“This wasn’t the first time she called him out, and, in truth, she hadn’t done it since.”

 

Restructured

“This wasn’t the first time she put him on the spot, and she had never done it again.”

 

In this case I got rid of two prepositions and was still able to keep the meaning of the sentence. The restructured sentence has a simpler clarity that also reads easier.

 

• Sometimes, specifically as part of natural dialog, it’s okay to use them.

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes our culture produces colloquial frames of speech we are subjected to from birth, and, if you have a good ear, you would do a disservice to your readers to not include the natural language of your characters in their dialog.

Example

“He came out in the sun, and his coat and shirt lifted up as he bent over. That’s when he started steaming—and it wasn’t because it was cold out and he was warm…”

Example 2

Steve lifted his brows at the question. “I saw that one before.”

These examples are taken directly from one of my novels, and, directly from the speech patterns of the people with whom I was raised. (<—Even dodged ending this sentence with “with” by using “with whom prior.”)

Use the natural language of your characters. Keep them real prepositions and all.

Recommendations

1. Be aware of what a preposition is. There are many listings of them online for you to reference. Common ones in my own writing are: to, for, of, about, with. You may have others.

2. If you end your sentence with a preposition, look at the different ways in which you can restructure your writing without changing its meaning. This process actually forces you to be creative, to look at variations that may convey your thoughts more clearly or make for a faster read.

3. Don’t give in to being lazy. The more you work elevating your writing, the better you get at cutting things like ending prepositions before they even get to paper or onscreen.

4. Not ending with a preposition is one sign of a professional writer, someone who takes their craft seriously. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The more this little fact was pointed out to me, the more I actually started paying attention to the structure of the writing of professionals. This is a truism.

5. It isn’t going to kill you to write and edit your work in a professional manner. It will improve you.

 

My own writing has improved a gazillion-fold because I started understanding the craft of writing. And it is a craft. The only casualties in this effort are your laziness and  the reduction of bad habits.

Craft your words. Craft your sentences. Craft your stories. It is a sign of a good writer to pay attention to these details so that the reader isn’t subjected to them.

And it’s okay to kill your ending prepositions, those little buggers have been asking for it for some time.

Grow.

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