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Prepositions are like links in a chain, joining nouns or pronouns (with their associated adjectives and adverbs) to other words in a sentence. They define their object’s relationship to the rest of the sentence relevant to time, space, or logic.

  • Choose the Right Preposition.

Jumping in bed is much different from jumping into bed. Sitting across the table isn’t the same as beside the table. An event may occur before, during, after, until, or since a certain time. Picture the relationship, then choose the preposition that works best.

  • Pay Attention to Each Phrase’s Location.

A prepositional phrase should be placed next to what it modifies.

  1. The patient was sent to a specialist with severe abdominal pain. (The specialist is in bad need of a doctor.) The patient, with severe abdominal pain, was sent to a specialist.
  2. William purchased a three-story house that had a basement with a large office that had a basement. (The house has the basement, and the basement has the office, so the phrases must link in that order).
  3. John spent thirty minutes to read the contract that his attorney had sent to him with his family. John spent thirty minutes with his family to read the contract that his attorney had sent to him.
  • More Isn’t Always Best.

One is good, two might be better, but a chain of more than three prepositional phrases can be difficult to follow. Numerous relationships become confusing. Try two sentences or explanatory phrases that don’t require a preposition.

  1. After a week of wondering what to do, I was sitting in the office of a psychiatrist, filling out forms, while looking for someone with the ability to analyze the situation, to diagnose my condition, and to write a prescription for the right medication. What could I do? The next week, I was sitting in a psychiatrist’s office, filling out forms, looking for someone who could diagnose my condition and prescribe the right medication.
  • Convert Phrases to Adjectives or Possessive Nouns.

The information in a prepositional phrase might be stated in a single-word modifier, which is usually stronger.

  1. She lives in Atlanta but spends most of her time in the summer at her cottage in Massachusetts. She lives in Atlanta but spends most of the summer at her Massachusetts cottage.
  2. The Ten Commandments were written by the God’s finger of God on two stone tablets of stone.