Word Peeves 2

PuzzledWhat’s with all the prepositions?

A preposition is supposed to work in combination with a noun or a pronoun to create phrases that modify verbs, nouns, pronouns or adjectives. When used as part of a phrase, they “convey a spatial, temporal or directional meaning.”*

They can be essential. For example: I will carry on despite these problems. I will stand up to a bully. Without “on” or “up,” these sentences wouldn’t make much sense. They certainly wouldn’t convey your meaning.

In other situations, a preposition is completely unnecessary. Despite that fact, they are being “added in” all over the place – even when “add” alone would suffice. And why does one ever have to say “subtract out?” “Subtract” says it all in one package.

But among the various examples of prepositional overreach, I consider “separate out” the most egregious. It is a silly concoction, simultaneously pompous, cumbersome, and superfluous.

Consider the meanings of the transitive verb “separate:”

  1. to set or keep apart.
  2. to make a distinction between.
  3. to sort.
  4. to disperse in space or time.

Now let’s put those definitions to work. You can separate your kids to keep them from fighting. You can separate apples from oranges when you want to make a distinction between types of fruit. You can sort your paperclips by separating the larger from the smaller. You can be separated from the person you love by time or distance. But you never, ever have to separate anything “out.”

So let’s keep prepositions in their place. I think the English language will be the better for it.

*Purdue Online Writing Lab.

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