Dave's Writing Guide

Typos, style-o's, capitalization-o's, and everything-else-and-in-between-o's.

Category: Prepositions

But in This Ever-Changing…

Problem(s)

The world in which we live in is full of ice cream.

Solution(s)

The world in which we live is full of ice cream.

The world we live in is full of ice cream.

Explanation

I think what’s happening in the problem sentence above is a kind of garden path effect. Specifically, the writer is in the process of writing the sentence, writes “in which”, and then by the time s/he gets to the end of “we live”, working memory fails, and another “in” is inserted. Oops!

Since English allows us to use prepositions either as post-verbal particles (or adverbs) or as true prepositions, we have two options when we create a relative clause. The first solution sentence gives us one option: a preposed preposition with a relative pronoun; and the second solution sentence gives us the other option: no relative pronoun of any kind, and the preposition “in” used adverbially. If a writer forgets (working memory, remember) which strategy they’ve chosen, though, problems like this can occur. It happens to everyone every now and again, so try to anticipate troublesome errors like this one.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Problem(s)

In the book Great Ice Cream Flavors, lists just about every fantastic flavor you can imagine.

Solution(s)

In the book Great Ice Cream Flavors, the author lists just about every fantastic flavor you can imagine.

In the book Great Ice Cream Flavors, there is a list of just about every fantastic flavor you can imagine.

The book Great Ice Cream Flavors lists just about every fantastic flavor you can imagine.

Explanation

I see this error a lot, and I think it has to do with working memory. The brain is much faster than the fingers, and, in certain cases, it’s even faster than the brain—that is, whatever part of the brain actually comes up with stuff is faster and stronger than working memory.

Consider the problem sentence below:

In the book Great Ice Cream Flavors, lists just about every fantastic flavor you can imagine.

If you leave out the first word of the sentence (and ignore the problematic comma. I included it because I see the comma more often than not), you get a grammatical sentence:

The book Great Ice Cream Flavors lists just about every fantastic flavor you can imagine.

Considering that we compose sentences in linear time, we type the first word, then the second, then the third, etc. Thus, each word we type is fresher in our mind. The more we type, the easier it is to forget the earliest words we composed. As a result, it’s easy, in the problem sentence, to forget about the “in”. Once you do that, you kind of just proceed with the sentence as grammatically as possible.

The best way to fix these is simply to proofread. When you read over your writing, you don’t have to worry about composition, so your attention is focused purely on wording. In theory. (Hopefully?) So rather than worry about what’s being said while proofreading, all you need to do is read and ask yourself, “Does this sound right?” It’s not too bad (much better than wind sprints).

Relationwith

Problem(s)

But how does that relate with ice cream?

Solution(s)

But how does that relate to ice cream?

Explanation

Poor unfortunate English… Its prepositions are all but meaningless nowadays, but we, the speakers, can’t seem to do without them. I think I understand why someone would use “with” here. “With” is a preposition associated with togetherness, and what could be more togethery (yes, I made up that word) than a relationship? Huh? What do you think? Well, whatever you think, the appropriate preposition to use with the verb “relate” is “to”.

You Take One Nap in a Ditch at the Park…

Problem(s)

We should declare the official ice cream of America as chocolate chip.

Solution(s)

We should declare the official ice cream of America chocolate chip.

We should declare chocolate chip the official ice cream of America.

Explanation

“Declare” is a three place predicate, meaning that if you’re x, then x declares y z, where y is the thing declared, and z is what the declaration pertains to. It may feel like you need an “as” in there, but that has more to do with the weight of the clauses involved than the word “declare”. Consider the sentence, “I declare him sane”. Would you say, “I declare him as sane”?

Now, the problem arises when both objects are nouns. In this case, the verb “declare” works just like the word “proclaim” (cf. the Family Guy episode “The King Is Dead”, where Peter, in his production of The King and I, says, “I have slain the evil emperor. I hereby proclaim Siam the United States of America!”). If having two nouns come one right after another seems confusing, and you’re not sure what is being declared what (it should be clear from context), why not use a passive? There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Chocolate chip should be declared the official ice cream of America”.

A Troubling Preposition

Problem(s)

Most people will continue to run in the way they want.

Solution(s)

Most people will continue to run the way they want.

Explanation

It might seem like you need a preposition to license the phrase “the way”, but you don’t. I think it has something to do with the word “way”. When we hear it, we interpret it as being adverbial in nature, so we feel that it can stand on its own. As a result, you can’t put the preposition “in” before “the way” in sentences like this one. This also holds if you say, “He walks this way”, or “She eats that way”.