Learn English – Is it preferable to generally use nested prepositional phrases or a hyphenated adjectival phrase


I've recently run into some sticky situations involving how to write out complicated concept descriptions. Take this example:

Which metrics are appropriate for evaluating the accuracy of a prediction of difficulty level?

My visceral response is that the nested prepositions ("for…of…of") bog down the reader. One option is to wrap one of the prepositional phrases into a hyphenated adjectival phrase:

Which metrics are appropriate for evaluating the accuracy of a difficulty-level prediction?

If I wanted to compress this even more, I could fold in another prepositional phrase:

Which metrics are appropriate when evaluating difficulty-level-prediction accuracy?

Unfortunately, these hyphenated cases look ugly and are arguably (especially in the 3rd case) as hard or harder to understand than the original sentence. Have any style guides or other sources justified using nested prepositional phrases over hyphenated adjectival phrases, or vice versa?

Best Answer

At bottom your problem isn't too many prepositional phrases - it's too many nouns.

Nominalization has been the bane of "scientific" style since the heyday of positivism: nouns, 'things', are somehow regarded as having more 'reality' than verbs or adjectives, even when the 'things' are just syntactical transformations of the deprecated 'actions' and 'qualities'.

Turn some of those gratuitous nominalizations into verbs or adverbs or adjectives and the problem goes away:

What metrics are appropriate for evaluating how accurately a difficulty level has been predicted?

Liberate yourself from hegemonic nominals.