Pursuing Prep. Phrase Perps

Prepositional Phrase mug shot

Grammar Smith had had a long day and an even longer night. All she wanted was a nice glass of Chardonnay and to go to bed. But she was still directing the roundup of the Prepositional Phrase Gang going on by the Department of English Language Offenses.

Grammar sighed and rubbed her eyes. The Prepositional Phrases were members of one of those families every community has: for the most part law abiding but with one large branch that can be depended upon to cause trouble.

In most cases, the PPs stirred up disagreement between Subjects and Verbs (which had problems getting along much of the time anyway). Throw PPs between them, and it all turns into a hopeless mess.

She looked at the operations file before her.

A couple of weeks ago at the Hunt and Peck, a Subject and Verb were at the bar, perfectly agreeable, when a Prepositional Phrase got between them and mixed things up. It pretty much spread like wildfire from there.

Grammar flipped through the reports.

The flower [subject] among the weeds {prepositional phrase} were blooming [verb].

Gusts [subj.] of frigid air {pp} chills [v] the nose.

The rays [subj.] of the alien gun {pp} spreads [v] and kills [v] quickly.

Each [subj.] of the criminals {pp} were [v] repeat offenders.

Of course, the longer things went on, the worse they got.  The DELO raids were trying to stop an epidemic.

Grammar was sipping on a cup of mud passing itself off as coffee when Det. Dis Connect radioed in.

“We’re in Tense City, and we’re having a hard time tracking down the ringleaders,” Dis said.

Wally Wordorder, head of the Fugitive Syntax Squad and with his own mug of mud in hand, knew the apartment complex well.

“Check out the Third Person Present Tense area,” he radioed back. “That’s usually where they hang out.”

“Will do!”

By early afternoon, the stream of Prepositional Phrases being charged and processed had slowed to a trickle. Grammar, Dis, and Wally walked into the bright sunshine heading for home and knowing that, in another few months, they would likely have to do it all again.


Pursuing Pop-up Prepositions

Popup Preps

“I don’t know where to begin,” Dis Connect complained to Grammar Smith.

He pointed to a stack of warrants on his desk.

“What are those about?” Grammar asked.

“They’re Over Exposure Warrants for a bunch of prepositions. I’m supposed to get them out of the sentences they keep popping up in where they shouldn’t.”

“Well, tell me what you have.”

“There are tons, but there are a few prepositions that are frequent offenders. Take of for instance. It tags along with off. Then it’s always shoving have out of the picture to hook up with could and should.

“Yes, I’ve seen the trouble of can sometimes cause. What other problem prepositions do you have there?”

To is another one that keeps butting in where it doesn’t belong. It seems to dog near and go a lot.”

“Hmmm,” Grammar mused. “That’s a bit tricky since to has to appear in verb infinitives. Can you give me an example of its straying ways?”

Dis frowned. “It mainly surfaces in questions. It shouldn’t be in ‘Where are you going to?’”

“Yes, that’s an offense that’s getting hard to overlook.”

“It’s when those prepositions slide in at the end for no good reason that gets me,” Dis said.

“Oh, yes! The worst is at,” Grammar agreed. “When I see or hear ‘Where are you at?’ I want to strangle someone. It’s worse than someone not turning their car alarm off all night.”

Dis nodded. “The best we can do is put them in handcuffs and keep them out of those sentences as much as possible.”

Just then, Wally Wordorder, head of the Fugitive Syntax Squad, ambled up to Dis’s desk.

“Ready to go?”

Dis stood up, gathering his equipment. “We’ll have to stop and get extra pairs of handcuffs.”


3 Careless Flubs That Make You Look Bad

Okay, we’ve all done it – made embarrassing writing mistakes we wish we could take back. The trick is to avoid those mistakes that can cost us readers.

I fillRecently, my reading (especially on the Web) caused me severe eye-roll syndrome. A bunch of thoughtless errors made me want to stop reading, but I trudged on. I think most readers would have shared my frustration.

Careless errors reflect poorly on writers and cause readers to doubt writers’ abilities (maybe even their intelligence). We need to do ourselves a favor and avoid these three types of embarrassing errors.

Proper Verb Form

English is weird. It’s a combination of several other languages. This makes for some rather illogical verb forms. But using the wrong form will get us in trouble – fast.

I was reading an online news item where the writer twice used the word “payed,” as in “he payed for that mistake.” Now, that would seem to be the logical past tense of to pay, but the correct form is paid. Didn’t the guy have a spelling checker? It comes up on mine.

Another common tense hang-up is the went-gone difficulty. Too many times I have read and heard “I had went …” Seriously? It’s “I had gone…”

There’s always the lie (to recline) versus lay (to set down) confusion. When it comes to verb forms in English, it’s a good idea to have a chart of irregular verb tenses handy. I know I do.


I’m not sure why, but people have trouble with the preposition of.

Sometimes they’ll leave it out, as in “we had a couple drinks to celebrate.” Does that make “couple” an adjective instead of a noun? How about “I drank a can soda”? That just doesn’t sound right.

On the other hand, people will use of when they mean have, to whit “I could of been a contender!” The difficulty here is one of sound. When we make the contractions “could’ve” or “should’ve,” that second syllable sounds an awful lot like “of.” But, well, it’s still wrong.

Wrong Words

Using a word we think sounds right instead of the correct word is the worst kind of error. It’s just plain sloppy writing, and the reader knows it.

We all know the problems with there, their, and they’re, and its and it’s. Yet, people will use fill when they mean feel. I had one student who kept using an in the place of and. It took me a while (and a lot of re-reading) to catch on.

And it mystifies me why people will use the word defiantly when they mean definitely. They are not even close in meaning or even pronunciation.

Using incorrect words forces the reader to figure out what the writer really means, and we don’t want to make the reader work that way.

Remember: We always want the reader to concentrate on what we’re saying, not struggle to translate the mistakes in our writing.

There are all kinds of crazy writing errors out there. What are some of your favorite (or should it be despised) errors?