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As a non-native English speaker, I often come up in my emails with awkward structures where prepositional verbs find themselves next to adverbial phrases introduced by the same preposition. For example:

This issue crept in in your absence.

This will be dealt with with our top team.

Just wanted to get your thoughts on this. Correct? Best avoided? Don't worry about it?

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  • They are to be avoided but there are things that are to be avoided even more. For example, saying something you don't mean because it seems clearer. The second example could be very prone to this pitfall (see my comment on Stephie's answer).
    – goldilocks
    Jun 28 '15 at 12:30
  • You'll see it on occasion – as in this 1950 book: "then you'll have no trouble if you ever have to get on on the wrong side". They're not wrong per se, but, if they can be avoided, it's probably best to avoid them.
    – J.R.
    Jun 28 '15 at 21:45
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Non-native myself, but a few pointers nevertheless:

  • Check if it's the correct preposition or phrase.
    In your example, it should be "dealt with by our top team" or "during your absence".
  • Choose another phrase.
    "this issue came up" is more idiomatic and "handled by our top team" is a valid alternative to your sentence.
  • Live with it.
    Sometimes the best way to say something requires double prepositions, like in many other languages. This may require the reader to read more carefully, but can't be helped.

How much effort you put into the first two solutions is a matter of choice and personal style. IMHO working on these greatly improves your language skills, but can interfere with "getting things done" in day-to-day business. Yet choosing the correct preposition may be crucial if the wrong one alters the meaning of a sentence or leads to misunderstandings.

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  • 1
    Also, natives tend to skim read & are very likely to miss those doubles entirely. I did when first reading the OP. Jun 28 '15 at 9:09
  • +1. In spoken contexts the parsing rhythms and clausal intonation patterns make "living with it" easy. With the verb crept-in there is virtually no pause between the verb and the preposition "in" (the words are pretty much a unit) and between the full verb phrase e.g. "the thief crept in" and the prepositional phrase e.g. "in the guard's absence" there is a brief yet marked syntactic pause; moreover, the verb-phrase and the prepositional phrase each has its own separate intonational contours. So we don't find an in-in "collision". In writing, a comma would certainly be acceptable. Jun 28 '15 at 12:07
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    Good answer, but I disagree that the example "dealt with with our top team" can be replaced with "by our top team". That changes the meaning. The first one might mean "we, together with our top team", except exactly who is going to be doing this with the top team is left ambiguous -- if that ambiguity is intentional, then it would be hard to express this succinctly any other way. Of course, being this succinct (or curt) in this situation might also imply unfriendliness; there is perhaps a bit of personality involved.
    – goldilocks
    Jun 28 '15 at 12:31
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    @TRomano I agree the root cause of this is often careless writing that ignores the difference between spoken and (formal) written language. But I think adding an (ungrammatical) comma in those examples is hoping that two mistakes will cancel each other out. You can usually remove the problem by rewriting, e.g. "This issue crept in while you were absent" or "We will deal with this problem/issue/situation with our top team". A comma in a sentence like "We were concerned that, that situation would become untenable" is just plain wrong IMO.
    – alephzero
    Jun 28 '15 at 13:42
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    I agree with @goldilocks that the meaning changes, but I have a suspicion that by our top team is what the O.P. meant. (I realize it's just a hypothetical, but still, that's how it "feels" to me).
    – J.R.
    Jun 28 '15 at 21:39
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I can only say I can't remember having read such structures. I guess they are avoided for stylistic reasons.

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    I believe they're avoided in expository writing because they often arise in the context of colloquial alternatives (the bed I slept in versus the bed in which I slept). The bed I slept in, in the winter, was stacked high with down comforters. Jun 28 '15 at 15:44

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