The influences of precipitation on water mass transformation and the strength of the meridional overturning circulation in marginal seas are studied using theoretical and idealized numerical models. Nondimensional equations are developed for the temperature and salinity anomalies of deep convective water masses, making explicit their dependence on both geometric parameters such as basin area, sill depth, and latitude, as well as on the strength of atmospheric forcing. In addition to the properties of the convective water, the theory also predicts the magnitude of precipitation required to shut down deep convection and switch the circulation into the haline mode. High-resolution numerical model calculations compare well with the theory for the properties of the convective water mass, the strength of the meridional overturning circulation, and also the shutdown of deep convection. However, the numerical model also shows that, for precipitation levels that exceed this critical threshold, the circulation retains downwelling and northward heat transport, even in the absence of deep convection.