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Participles for My Men, Prepositions for My Horses

Participle vs. Preposition: Do I Need Both?

At the state fair this summer, let’s suppose that Toby Keith and Willie Nelson sing a duo, “Beer for My Horses,” except Toby sweats, picks, winces, and whines with his lips on the microphone, while Willie signs autographs and Toby has to step around him. That wouldn’t be fair, would it? You and I could sign autographs. Yet every day, we stick little pairs of words in our writing that do just that: one sweats, picks, and does all the hard work, while the other often just gets in the way.


Here’s how we recognize those little word pairs: the first word is a past participle, that conjugation of a verb we use when we combine it with other verbs, like have: have eaten, have gone, have walked, have talked; the second is a preposition, the little word that opens a unit of information: Toby sings to the crowd in the stands under the stars. Willie signs autographs for the fans on the stage during the show. (We have 139 more to go, but I will spare you.) In these pairings, we often do not need the past participle because the preposition does the job for both: a book authored by Fitzgerald; the joy found within ourselves.


Sometimes we have to distinguish: a country western song often gets written by, sung by, produced by, recorded by, and distributed by different people. So if we write, “’Honkytonk Hairdo’ by Rubie Rhinestones,” we might need to distinguish which past participle reveals her contribution; if she only wrote it (not a mean feat), we need to include written. For this same reason, lawyers understand why we might write “the terms stated in the parties’ agreement” and leave it alone--we're distinguishing stated terms from implied terms.


But if we don’t need to distinguish, we don’t need that extra word:


the space provided below
charges incurred for the beverage consumption
a tax parcel situated on the east side


Located seems to pop up in these pairs more than any other past participle:


the properties located at 5590 and 5600
a campus located on a hillside
all wetlands located throughout the delta


Removing one of these words might not greatly affect your reader’s response to your writing. But remember that every sentence we tighten, lighten, and brighten accumulates, builds, and contributes to a positive effect on our readers. Like the old slogan from the '60s anti-war protests--"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem"--words not conveying meaning get in the way of words trying to convey meaning. There's no middle ground.


P.S. At the push of a button, the WordRake software would have made five of those last six edits for you.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

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