A Higher View of Content: Understanding the Preposition

It’s time for Halloween, and dark and eerie things are lurking around every corner. Don’t let your content be the place for mishaps and mayhem! Today, I’ll discuss one of my favorite parts of speech, the preposition, and how writers, especially content writers, can improve their content through a better understanding of these little monsters.

Prepositions are small words that can cause big problems. In writing, you must carefully choose even the tiniest of words. For example, are you talking at someone, with someone, or to someone? Prepositions alter semantics; you must carefully choose the correct preposition if you want to convey a clear message to your readers. As writers, clarity is imperative.

Prepositions define the relationship between two or more nouns (or noun phrases or verbs) in a sentence. You really have to understand the concept behind the preposition to gain a complete understanding—­either that, or you can memorize the complete list of about 150. If you don’t fully understand the preposition and how it functions in a sentence, I suggest taking a minute or two to familiarize yourself. If you do, I promise your content writing will improve.

Where’s Frankenstein?

While teaching grammar, I always introduced the monstrous little preposition with a stuffed Frankenstein doll. Because prepositions explain relationships, usually spatial relationships, I’d place the little monster at different locations around the classroom. When I placed Frankenstein under the desk, the students would identify “under” as the preposition. When I placed Frankenstein in the trashcan, the students would identify “in” as the preposition. I think you get it: prepositions describe relationships.

Cut Dead Words

When writing for the web, it’s important to remember to do just that: write for the web. You’re working with a limited space, and web readers don’t—rather, web readers won’t—spend a great deal of time reading a single page. As a content writer, you definitely don’t want to waste precious space with dead words. One of the most common mistakes I see as an editor is an overuse of prepositions. Much of the time, the preposition can be omitted, and the content becomes clearer and more graceful. Writers and speakers of English often tack prepositions onto verbs, where they are completely unnecessary. Here are a few examples:

The infrastructure the company has built up is impressive.

I started off with an interest in politics.

He has a keen ability to fix up problem areas.

Putting your job description up on LinkedIn will help.

As you can see, the preposition “up” is most often overused. In all of the examples above, the preposition can be completely eliminated, and the sentence is one word shorter and much clearer.

Choose Strong Verbs

I recently wrote about improving content through the elimination and replacement of weak verbs, more specifically, the “to be” verb. There are, however, plenty of other ways to improve your content through word replacement. One technique involves replacement of misused or overused prepositions. Read the following sentences and determine which sentence, in your opinion, is clearer.

  1. He’s certainly a specialist to look up to.
  2. He’s certainly a specialist to admire.
  1. In almost every case, the underdog wins out.
  2. In almost every case, the underdog prevails.
  1. The Daily Beast put up an article about the issue.
  2. The Daily Beast posted an article about the issue.
  1. You’re always able to find out more if you conduct research.
  2. You’re always able to learn more if you conduct research.
  1. I will get rid of unnecessary prepositions.
  2. I will eliminate unnecessary prepositions.
  1. His performances continue to draw in a crowd.
  2. His performances continue to attract a crowd.

I’m sure most of you will agree that the B examples provide much clearer sentences. You can also see that the A examples contain a preposition, while those labeled B do not. It is no coincidence. Prepositions are small words that can cause big headaches. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t use a preposition unless you truly need one.

While I am not a strict grammarian when it comes to some of the “old school” rules of English, like “never end a sentence with a preposition,” I always promote clarity. And when it comes to writing for the internet, bringing words to the chopping block is a necessity. As a content writer for the internet, you want to get your point across as quickly and clearly as possible. Understanding the preposition is just one quick way to improve your content today. Stay tuned for my next content writing improvement technique!

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Kimberlee Kile Henry

Lead Editor Kimberlee Kile Henry is an editor by day, writer by night, and a weekend adventure seeker. When she's not slashing dead and empty words from content, you can probably find her chasing one of her three little boys to the top of a mountain or building her Pennsylvania homestead.

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    1. Thanks, Pat! You’re not the only one 🙂 I see it all the time.

    2. Great post! It’s tough to make copy sound exciting and include a genuine call to action, but your verb replacement suggestions are extremely helpful. I come from a creative writing background, specifically poetry, and have found my training invaluable. I can slash and burn unnecessary words and phrases with wild abandon.
      Meagan Dahl was just talking about…3 Tips For Building Your Brand With PinterestMy Profile

      • Thanks, Meagan! I love making connections between my background in education and content writing. Whether I’m teaching high school students or editing copy, the useful writing tips remain the same. All writers can benefit from the elimination of dead or dull words 🙂

    3. Nice Post. I know I’m guilty of a lot of this when I’m writing in a hurry.
      Patrick Himes was just talking about…A Higher View of Content: Understanding the PrepositionMy Profile

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