Why prepositions are bad
I am on the record as thinking verbs are the best part of speech.
I am equally unfond of nouns that should be verbs, such as destruction, death, dismemberment, happiness and anything to do with sex. Nouns that should be verbs obscure agency, turn action into facts, kill tension and will probably kill us all if the oligarchs don’t do the job via the climate crisis.
But another part of speech is arguably worse.
A harder killer of all that is decent in the world.
I hear kittens and puppies don’t like them. And really, if baby animals think something is bad?
Friends and strangers, without further ado, I give you one of two things that can make a noun somehow worse, and the one of two (the other being a modifier) you need less: the preposition.
Prepositions are leeches, except that leeches have value even within the context of “we don’t know what science is” because in that science, there’s a step after leeches. There’s no step after prepositions except to burn your manuscript and start over, this time without any prepositions. And what a waste that is.
Well. Without any needed prepositions. Removing every preposition from your writing is a bad idea, but most prepositions lack value. Here’s why:
- Most prepositions obscure or remove agency and help turn action into facts.
Most nouns do this too, so anything that adds to a noun is guilty by association.
“The guilt of the party in the matter, established by the report, originated with the politician.”
Three prepositions, none of them useful. Your only verbs are established (which can be decent but can also be a process verb) and originated. Better as, unless you’re a politician trying to avoid saying anything:
“The report blamed the politician.”
Zero prepositions, and now we have a clear sentence. Fancy that!
But it gets worse, with prepositions, because …
2. Most prepositions delay material and kill flow.
Fundamentally, any word that gets in the way of what you want to communicate delays that material. If you can get away with it, this is good.
Most people can’t. Most people are Nixon-insisting-he’s-not-a-crook/Clinton-did-not-have-sexual-relations-with-that-woman/Trump’s-7.5-hour-phone-gap bad at it. Most of those people also think prologues should not be punted en masse into the Kuiper belt, so their protestations can be summarily ignored by all that is good and decent in the world.
In writing, flow is the thing that gets you to keep reading even if nothing is there. But getting flow without having anything there can be tricky if not impossible, so good writers achieve flow by putting things in there.
Prepositions are not those things. Writing seamless prose that lacks prepositions facilitates such ease — allows you to engage so briskly — that once you get going, you find you’re cruising. So why use a preposition?
The above paragraph contains zero prepositions. Look at how many verbs it has: are, lacks, facilitates, allows, engage, get, find, are, use. nine verbs in three lines is pretty good. Lots happens.
Nothing happens with prepositions. They convey no action, only fact. They convey no emotion, only relations between words. And we don’t need that relation much.
Prepositions are like the buddy sitting in the getaway car for after the real adults did the deed. They might encourage you for doing it, but they did nothing.
There’s a third, nichier reason to avoid prepositions:
3. Prepositions inhale tight spaces’ characters and thus destroy pitches.
A pitch gives you 280 characters to convince an agent to want more. Why would you spend any of those characters making a noun needlessly longer? SPEND THEM ON VERBS!
Here’s what happens: You use a preposition. You probably also use an article, such as the. You just burned six characters doing nothing.
While aboard a ship, Ronnie discovers a portal to another world. She loves her life there, but her wife can’t come with. Now she has to decide whether to fly solo or swim with her partner.
First, that pitch has stakes, whereas 90 percent of pitches are plot element lists. But more importantly, what did “while aboard” add? This pitch is 188 characters, and 32 of them could be used better. That’s almost one in six.
Imagine wasting one word in every six. You’d want to cut, cut, cut, right? That’s preposition bloat. Consider this alternative:
Ronnie and her wife are cruising in the Caribbean when she discovers a portal and a fantastic new airborne life — but one her airsick wife can’t enjoy. Now she must decide: fly solo or swim with her partner.
The only reason I have ever found to make a point of using prepositions, aside from the skill-based delay of material, is to show character. This is often through precise speaking:
“The dog did it.”
“The action of the dog achieved the outcome of which you speak.”
So now, looking at your writing’s prepositions. How many do you need? Probably few. Try recasting, and see if you can hit harder using writing that lacks prepositions.
Good luck <3