“Of is a preposition, and although not an inherently evil word, overusing it can make your writing sound passive and fussy.” — Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl)
In a recent post, I promoted the word processor Find feature to eliminate weak words and phrases. On my own manuscript, I discovered reducing one particular word greatly improved my novel in three ways:
- Eliminated wordiness
- Created smoother reading
- Alerted me to other problems
The word is the preposition of. This preposition usually totes unnecessary words wherever it surfaces.
Before I reduced of-use, my manuscript hosted 1.3 occurrences in every 100 words.
After reducing the preposition, every 100 words contained only .4 incidences.
And the exercise tightened and reduced my word count by 2.4%.
These 21 examples show the of-usage types I encountered and how I rewrote the phrases.
Amount and Number
1. Wordy: cleaned every trace of dirt from the ball.
Rewrite: She scrubbed the ball.
2. Wordy: stared at the ball for a couple of beats…
Rewrite: stared at the ball for a moment…
3. Wordy: I have a couple of clients in…
Rewrite: I have clients in…
4. Wordy: From all of Margie’s comments…
Rewrite: From Margie’s comments…
5. Wordy: done in plenty of time to…
Rewrite: done in time to…
6. Wordy: A lot of gossip about the female caddy was…
Rewrite: Gossip about the female caddy was…
7. Wordy: Shoo’s percent of the winnings would buy…
Rewrite: Shoo could afford…
8. Wordy: Wouldn’t Shoo choose one of the less expensive restaurants…?
Rewrite: Wouldn’t Shoo choose a less expensive restaurant…?
9. Wordy: The ball spun out two feet past the other side of the cup.
Rewrite: The ball spun out two feet past the cup.
10. Wordy: Shame started at the top of her pea brain and flowed to…
Rewrite: Shame flowed from her pea brain to…
11. Wordy: Margie nodded in the direction of the driving range.
Rewrite: Margie nodded toward the driving range.
12. Wordy: itched to trace the smile lines on either side of his mouth.
Rewrite: itched to trace the smile lines framing his mouth.
13. Wordy: stared at him from the other side of the table.
Rewrite: stared at him from across the table.
14. Wordy: They read sections of the newspaper…
Rewrite: They read newspaper sections…
15. Wordy: curb their male talk in the presence of the little lady?
Rewrite: curb their male talk in the little lady’s presence?
16. Wordy: Light emitted from the window of the weight room.
Rewrite: Light emitted from the weight-room window.
17. Wordy: The burn of the carbonation refreshed the dryness of his throat.
Rewrite: The carbonation burn refreshed his dry throat.
18. Wordy: for the teens of the world’s sake.
Rewrite: for teens worldwide.
19. Wordy: After Allie’s show of little faith in his integrity…
Rewrite: After Allie had dissed his integrity…
20. Wordy: suggested a few adjustments to the angle of his torso on his follow through.
Rewrite: suggested an adjustment to his upper-body position on his follow through.
21. Wordy: His smile’s charm fell short of Shoo’s.
Rewrite: His smile lacked Shoo’s charm.
Reduce this little preposition and greatly improve your manuscript. Click to tweet.
What’s the first unnecessary of occurrence in your manuscript?
I have learned to eliminate “but” and “then.” Those introductory words just got in the way.
Katheryn, I started to eliminate introductory BUTs too. But (:0)) I read an article by an editor who said opening BUTs and ANDs were perfectly fine in today’s writing. I think I remember he said it places more emphasis. Anyone else have thoughts on the introductory BUT?
Hi Zoe. “But” and “And” are both acceptable now for beginning sentences. BUT only when used in moderation. 🙂 Blessings and thanks for a good post.
I’m glad to have the confirmation, JoAnn, because I use introductory BUTs and ANDs…hopefully in moderation,
Good post, Zoe! This is a new one to add to my wordy list!
Thanks, Marian, after I reduced lots of OFs, I read aloud my scenes and changed a few back to the original with the use of OF. These few sounded better with the OF.
Great post! Your examples were spot on and sure were improved! Thanks for sharing!
Kelly, I never dreamed I would like the scenes better from addressing that one little word.
Here’s a proposition for you: OF is prEposition! lol. As for “weasel words,” my biggest offender is the word “that.” I find that, I can usually do without that. tee hee
That’s funny that you have that problem with that, Linore. (Are we getting punchy, or what?)
Make that “A” preposition!
Linore, my husband just alerted me to what you were trying to tell me about the “proposition.” Now corrected. Thanks!
Glad you got it. 🙂
I’ll have to run the “find” tool through my next book to watch for the word “of”. Don’t think I’ve done that, before. Thx!
Who would have thought “of” could be such a rascal. Thanks, Zoe
I know, Marilyn. Kind of like a flea. Tiny but a real bother.
With your permission, I’m going to use this post in my writing class, Zoe. Well done!
Sure, Gail, I hope it helps your class.
I’ve never been told to look for “of” before, but you’re right, there are so many unnecessary words attached to it! Wow. Thanks for pointing that out, Zoe!
You’re welcome, Jessica. I hope I’ll be more aware of the OFs as I write.
By your examples, you’re basically saying drop the prepositional phrases when you can use more powerful verbs or nouns, etc.
Hi Jane, it appears the phrases with OF are particularly pesky. I think it may because OF is sort of invisible.
Yes, but your examples showed how strong the writing is without it. It takes good writing to great writing.