Grammar, Prepositions

Persnickety about Preposition Placement

Qdoba Prep Phrase 1

This is pretty nit-picky. But what’s an editor who doesn’t obsess over the nit-picky? My problem with the description of Qdoba’s Naked Burrito and Naked Taco Salad is the placement of a prepositional phrase. (*See below for an explanation of what, exactly, a prepositional phrase even is.) You see, I think the prep phrase in a bowl should switch places with the prep phrase without the tortilla.

My logic: Prepositional phrases should stand in line directly next to what they modify. I think the intention of the description is that the Naked Burrito and Taco are served without a tortilla, and they are served in a bowl. To me, however, it sounds as if the Naked items are served without “the tortilla in a bowl”; that is, they come without a tortilla that is in a bowl. That poor tortilla sitting all alone in a bowl! Whatever will it do there by itself? Since the prep phrase in a bowl sits right next to the word tortilla, it seems to be modifying it, answering the question “which tortilla”? Why, the one in a bowl, of course!

In case you are thoroughly confused (which is quite all right; after all, this is confusing stuff), I will simply write what I think would improve the description: “For a lighter option order our NAKED BURRITO or our NAKED TACO SALAD served in a bowl without the tortilla.”

Oh geez. Now I’ve created the same problem I originally criticized! Now it seems without the tortilla is modifying bowl. Which bowl? The one without the tortilla. Well, I guess that works, for we still have a tortilla-less concoction. So I stand by my correction. Switch the prepositional phrases, Qdoba!

***

*As promised, a lesson on prepositional phrases. Simply put, a prep phrase is a preposition plus a noun or noun phrase. (Don’t fret; a noun phrase is a noun plus its modifiers, e.g., a friendly, silly dog OR a ludicrous proposal OR an insanely crazy grammar nerd.)

Sometimes I find a math formula helpful:
PP=P + N or NP

So what’s a preposition? It’s one of the eight parts of speech, and it’s pretty much a list with which you become familiar. I’m sure you’ve heard the tree example. You know, the squirrel goes through the tree, around the tree, next to the tree, above the tree, etc. All the words in italics are — you guessed it — prepositions. For me, I, being the true nerd I am, resorted to memorizing “The Preposition Song” my slightly crazed (but absolutely endearing) professor taught me in Traditional English Grammar. It doesn’t include the full list of prepositions, but it gives a nice sample to which you can refer. After time, you eventually get the feel for a preposition. (Of course, this happens only when you’ve gone off the grammatical deep end.)

Some examples of prepositional phrases

They can be simple (preposition + [noun]):

  • After [dark]
  • Without [grammar]
  • About [germs]

They can be less simple (preposition + [noun phrase]):

  • Into [the dark chasm]
  • Instead of [the ever-droning, never-ending whining]
  • Beyond [a reasonable cause]

They can also be less simple and come in strings (preposition + [noun phrase]) (preposition + [noun phrase]) (preposition + [noun phrase]), etc.:

  • (Next to [the cat]) (on [the counter]) (by [the smelly dish water])
  • (According to [the friendly old man]) (with [the dust-covered coat]) (by [the river])
  • (Notwithstanding [essential evidence]) (about [the plaintiff]) (with [the greasy eyelashes])

Of course, prepositional phrases can’t stand alone; they are embedded within sentences, surrounded by a subject and a verb. See if you can locate the prepositional phrases:
Hint: There is one in Sentence 1, two in Sentence 2, and five in Sentence 3.

1.) I ate the creamed corn with gusto.

2.) I truly enjoy music by singers who have food stuck in their teeth.

3.) The squirrel in the tree by the hawk with the thorn from the brambles in its eye enjoyed that acorn immensely.

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