A Stuffy Style
These come in two varieties:
1. two-word prepositions 2. three-word prepositions
The two-word varieties include pursuant to, according to, because of, prior to, subsequent to, and others. The three-word varieties include with respect to, in regard to, in accordance with, and others.
Compound prepositions, such as with respect to, tend to get a bit fuzzy, so we should use them only when prepositions with more concrete meaning fail to capture exactly what we’re trying to say.
Before reviewing a list of compound prepositions, you might want to pause and enjoy the grumbles of Henry Fowler on the wordiness and fuzziness of compound prepositions:
[T]aken 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, brings an expansive sense of increased power; they think they have acquired with far less trouble than they expected the trick of dressing up what they may have to say in the right costume for public exhibition. Later they know better, and realize that it is feebleness instead of power that they have been developing; but by that time the fatal ease that the compound-preposition style gives (to the writer, that is) has become too dear to be sacrificed. Fowler, p. 102.
The most recent edition, New Fowler, however, says that this “colourful view no longer seems to be supported by the facts.” New Fowler, p. 167.
With Respect To, A Stuffy Expression to Avoid
I beg to differ with New Fowler. Especially in my profession—the law—and in government, writers do stuff up what they write with flimsy compound prepositions, the most favorite being with respect to. In one paper I reviewed, written by an attorney at a large corporation, I found seven with respect to’s in a single paragraph.
Now that kind of style produces exactly the “compost of nouny abstractions” Fowler, and all good writers, seek to avoid.
And consider the expression prior to. It means nothing more than before. Saying prior to does not make something more before than before. Ditto subsequent to. It means nothing more than after.
So study this list of compound prepositions (and other wordy strings of prepositional phrases and subordinating conjunctions) with corresponding simpler expressions that just might say the same thing:
Compound Prepositions, A List
Try to banish the compound preposition from your style:
|Compound Expression||Simple Expression|
|at that point in time||then|
|at this point in time||now|
|by means of||by|
|by reason of||because of|
|by virtue of||by, under|
|during the course of||during|
|for the purposes of [+ noun] for the purposes of [+ gerund]||for infinitive phrase|
|for the reason that||because|
|from the point of view of||from, for|
|in accordance with||by, under|
|in a manner similar to||like|
|in excess of||more than, over|
|in favor of||for|
|in order to||to|
|in receipt of||received|
|in relation to||about, concerning|
|in routine fashion||routinely|
|in terms of||in|
|in the event that||if|
|in the nature of||like|
|in the immediate vicinity of||near|
|in close proximity with||near|
|on the basis of||by, from|
|pursuant to||under, according to|
|with a view to||to|
|with reference to||about, concerning|
|with regard to||about, concerning|
|with respect to||on, about, for, in, concerning, with, to, or some verbal expression|