In relation to, with regard to

Texts by Dutch authors tend to be full of little phrases like these. Sure, they have their place, but there’s often a natural one-word alternative.

And all too often, especially as an experienced editor, you get the feeling that they’ve gone for the wordier variant in an attempt to mask the fact that they’re not sure what that shorter alternative should have been.

  • Two favourite examples are “in connection with” and “with regard to”, which are often better replaced with “about”
  • Other improvements often include replacing such phrases with “in” or “for”…
  • …but not usually “over”, which Dutch authors occasionally try.

The best way of checking is actually often to Google up a few phrases including the words that come before or after. The numbers of hits when you search for “I am writing to you about” and “I am writing to you on” (perhaps with -“on behalf of”) and “I am writing to you over” will soon tell you which is the natural shorter form of “I am writing to you in relation to” (though that isn’t plain wrong and will still get hits, of course). Restricting such searches e.g. to UK sites is a smart move too, of course.

Prevalence: endemic. The more formal and scientific and businesslike they want to sound, the more it happens.
Frequency: very high. The many instances in any single document add to that feeling that the writer’s circumventing the fact that they don’t know which little preposition to use.
Native: yes. Particularly when clarity isn’t the aim and we’re trying to sound formal and scientific and businesslike… which doesn’t make it correct.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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