Prepositions: Compound or Phrasal Prepositions

How to Remove the Clutter from Your Writing:

Replacing Compound Prepositions

by Owen Fourie

It happens everywhere. Many people pull together as one team; many parts function together to make one car; many words make one sentence. Many words can be one preposition.

When we think of a preposition, we normally think of one word, but there are compound or phrasal prepositions that are made up of two words or three words and more.

Some of these multi-word prepositions are listed below. This will help you to become familiar with words that normally make up a phrasal preposition.

Use of these multi-word prepositions is not necessarily good writing. Actually, it is better to eliminate them from your writing as much as possible. This article suggests what may be done instead.

Two-word prepositions

Many two-word prepositions are unavoidable. Here are some that are in common use:

according to ahead of apart from
as for as of as regards
as to aside from because of
due to except for in between
instead of outside of owing to
prior to regardless of subsequent to

Avoid “outside of”

Outside is all that needs to be said. Outside of seems to be accepted more readily in the US than in Britain, but it should not appear in formal writing.

Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856—1925) used this phrase in Chapter 3 of Nada the Lily published in 1892:

Some of my people were seated outside of a hut, talking together over a fire.

Three-word prepositions

A compound preposition comprising three words or more can be replaced by a single word or a two-word preposition.

Follow these directions to use the suggestions in the table below:

  • Find the compound preposition that you are thinking of using in the first column. (This should not be taken as a complete listing.)
  • Consider the proposed replacement for it in the second column.
  • Try the replacement in your sentence. In many instances, this will require you to rewrite the sentence.
  • Use the proposed replacement only if it works for you and expresses what you mean. If it doesn’t, use the compound preposition, but be careful not to use too many in one essay.
  • Try, rather, to rewrite the sentence more simply.
Simplify Your Writing
Instead of Try using this, or this
as a means of to
as well as and
by means of by, with
by reason of because of
by virtue of because of
during the course of during
for the duration of during
for a period of for
for the purpose of for
for the reason that because
for the sake of for
in accordance with by, under, concerning
in addition to besides, also, additionally
in the amount of for
in close proximity to near
in conjunction with together with
in connection with about, concerning
in consideration of considering, because of
in the event of if
in the event that if, should, in case
in excess of over, more than
in favor of for
in the immediate vicinity of near
in lieu of rather than, instead of
in the nature of like
in the neighborhood of about, approximately
in order to to
in reference to regarding, concerning, about
in relation to concerning, regarding
in spite of despite, notwithstanding
in terms of regarding, concerning, about
in view of because of
on account of because of, owing to, due to
on the basis of because of
on behalf of for
on the occasion of on
under the provisions of under
with the exception of except for
with reference to about, concerning
with regard to about, concerning
with respect to about, concerning
with a view to to

Avoid “at this point in time” and “in back of”

Avoid the phrase “at this point in time.” Use one of these:

  • now (best choice)
  • at this time;
  • at this point;
  • at present.

Avoid the peculiar “in back of.” Use one of these to fit the situation:

  • behind (“behind the shed,” if it is outside the shed);
  • at the back of (“at the back of the shed,” if it is inside the shed);
  • in the back of (“in the back of the car,” if that is where you left your hat).

Eliminate compound prepositions

Now that you are aware of compound prepositions, get rid of them!

Fowler says,

they are almost the worst element in modern English… To young writers the discovery of these forms of speech, which are used very little in talk & very much in print, brings an expansive sense of increased power; they think they have acquired with far less trouble than they anticipated the trick of dressing up what they may have to say in the right costume for public exhibition. Later, they know better, & realize that it is feebleness, instead of power, that they have been developing; but by that time the fatal ease that the compound-preposition style gives (to the writer, that is) has become too dear to be sacrificed. (Fowler, H. W. A Dictionary of Modern English. London: Oxford UP, 1957. Print.)


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with prepositions or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

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Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips


    • Onyi on November 12, 2012 at 11:22

    who sponsor or contributes to this web site because im trying to cite this page

    1. Onyi: The writer of these posts is Owen Fourie, but if you wish to cite this particular post in APA Style, it would be,

      English Essay Writing Tips. (2011, December 13). How to Remove the Clutter from Your Writing [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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