Mind your prepositions
16 Austin Lawyer 13 (Oct. 2007)
We should write sentences that convey our meaning and keep the reader engaged. We should write sentences that flow. That can be hard in legal writing, but we can learn. This article discusses two preposition problems that can spoil engaging, flowing sentences. When you use excessive prepositions and compound prepositions, you chop your sentences up and bog your reader down.
A sentence with too many prepositional phrases can become stilted and choppy. See Joseph M. Williams, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace 42 (8th ed. 2005). A stilted and choppy sentence is hard to read and hard to read quickly. Consider this one:
- A knowledge of correct trial procedures is the duty of all of the members of the bar of this state.
- All state-bar members must know correct trial procedure.
- There is no current estimate of the number of boxes of records in possession of the schools.
- We have not estimated how many boxes of records the schools have.
Compound prepositions are longer, fancier versions of regular prepositions. Here are my favorites:
in order to
for the purpose of
with reference to
in connection with
with regard to
with a view toward
in the event of
on account of
by means of
in conjunction with
If you want to sound stuffy and stiff, sprinkle these throughout your writing. See Bryan A. Garner, The Winning Brief 243 (2d ed. 2004). They have a formal flavor:
- We prepared the interrogatories in conjunction with the Popsey matter hastily, in order to meet the discovery deadline.
- I prepared the interrogatories for the Popsey matter hastily to meet the discovery deadline.
- Gail said she wanted to discuss something with me in connection with my legal memo with a view toward improving my writing.
- Gail said she wanted to discuss something with me about my legal memo, so I could improve my writing.