Sticky Prepositions, Again

Last week we introduced prepositions. There’s more to them. Click here to read the first post of this series and about simple prepositions.

To recap, there are three types of prepositions:

  1. simple prepositions
  2. marginal prepositions
  3. compound prepositions

Marginal prepositions act like prepositions but derive from other classes, primarily verb forms. Here is a list of these forms:

barring     considering     concerning     pending     given     granted

Let’s move on to the third type: compound prepositions. They come in two varieties: (1) two-word prepositions, and (2) three-word prepositions. The two-word includes pursuant to, according to, because of, etc. The three-word includes with respect to, in regard to, in accordance with, etc.

Compound prepositions can get a bit fuzzy, which is why we should avoid them unless the concrete meanings fail to capture what we’re trying to convey. Henry Fowler had a few words on compound prepositions:

Taken as a whole, [compound prepositions] are almost the worst element in modern English, stuffing up what is written with a compost of nouny abstractions. To young writers the discovery of these forms of speech, which are used very little in talk and very much in print…

We are going to trail off the quote from there because the rest isn’t important here. But, Fowler had a point and writers have succumbed to this depth of insanity with compound prepositions. They are so easy to use, but need to be avoided. My favorite (not really!) is in regard to. When I see this popping up in manuscripts, I immediately highlight it with a note: please consider revising with another word. It’s okay to use it once, maybe twice. More than that, just no.

Here’s a list of compound prepositions with their simples next to them that are used the most:

Compound                                                                         Simple

by means of                                                                       by

during the course of                                                        during

for the reason that                                                           because

in order to                                                                         to

in relation to                                                                     about, concerning

with regard to                                                                   about, concerning

with reference to                                                              about, concerning

prior to                                                                               before


Next week: Prepositional phrases.