Bad Words And Weak Words That Every Writer Should Avoid

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Weak Poor and Bad Words

Weak, poor and bad words dilute the power of your writing

Writing is not an easy business. Whether you write fiction, short stories or blog posts, choosing the best vocabulary and grammar is what makes the difference between an average and an excellent text.

For most writers, many of the words that dilute your message are habits or tics. These words often appear when you write your first draft because you are trying to get everything down as quickly as possible.

When it comes time to start on your second draft, then you need to take the red pen, an axe or even a chainsaw to your writing.

Fixing poor vocabulary choices can often be as simple as deleting a word. While for others, you will have to rephrase your way out of trouble.

It would be easy to make a list of hundreds of words that interfere with good storytelling or messaging. But I will keep my list short and concentrate on the most important words and phrases.

I like to put these words into three categories.

Weak words diminish the value of your writing.

Poor words have better alternatives.

Bad words are prime candidates for deletion.

The difference between a great article, a gripping young adult story or a phenomenal poem is always about the selection of words.

The following three lists with examples will hopefully help you make far better choices.

 

Weak Words

1. Weak as water words

The following words dilute good writing because they are usually unnecessary. Here are some of the most common to avoid.

 

Just

Just is a genuine tic word. It is usually used as an adverb, and it falls out of your fingers when you write. You should delete it as quickly as possible.

 

I was furious, so I just got into my car and drove off. Delete

I was so furious, I jumped into my car and drove off. 

 

It was just the way she looked at me that made me suspicious. Delete

It was the odd way she looked at me that made me suspicious.

 

He could have just as easily told me he didn’t know instead of lying about it. Delete

He could have easily told me he didn’t know instead of lying about it.

 

So

So is an adverb to intensify or as a conjunction to indicate a reason. It is almost always the weakest choice you can make. There are always better alternatives.

 

So, I was going to tell you, but I forgot.

I was going to tell you, but I forgot.

 

My boss was so angry with me when I broke the photocopier.

My boss was furious with me when I broke the photocopier.

 

We only had a few minutes to change trains, so we had to run to the next platform.

We had to run to the next platform because (as) we only had a few minutes to change trains.

 

Something

Indefinite pronouns say nothing other than that whatever it is, is unspecified. Something, someone, somewhere or somehow, somewhat and somebody can almost always be replaced with stronger vocabulary.

 

There was something about the way his eyes glazed over when I asked him why he was leaving.

His eyes glazed over and he looked completely lost when I asked him why he was leaving.

 

Somehow, I have to find a way to make them understand that they can’t stay any longer.

I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I have to find a way to make them understand that they can’t stay any longer.

 

Someone must have heard the noise next door and called the police.

One of the neighbours must have heard the noise next door and called the police.

 

Related reading: A Hands-On Review Of ProWritingAid 

 

Poor Words

2. Poor words add no value

Poor modification or intensification of adjectives adds little value. Instead of adding an intensifying adverb, replace it with a stronger adjective.

 

Very

My favourite word to delete and replace. If you see it, get rid of it because it rarely adds any value.

 

Marshall was very angry because his sister smashed his new car.

Marshall was furious because his sister smashed his new car.

 

I worked all day long, and now the house is very clean.

I worked all day long, and now the house is spotless.

 

Mary and John were very tired after their long walk through the streets of the old town.

Mary and John were exhausted after their long walk through the streets of the old town.

 

Really

Often used in a similar way to very, but occasionally as an exclamation. In either case, it is one word that never belongs in any form or writing. It really needs deleting.

 

I really don’t know why I lost my job. My boss sent me an email and told me not to come to work on Monday.

I  don’t understand why I lost my job. My boss sent me an email and told me not to come to work on Monday.

 

I should have taken an umbrella. I got really wet on the way back home.

I should have taken an umbrella. I got soaked on the way back home.

 

My eldest boy is really clever and always passes his exams.

My eldest boy is brilliant and always passes his exams.

 

Quite

Another low value modifying adverb that can be replaced with far better alternatives.

 

Oh, it was a fantastic holiday, but it was quite cold at night. Luckily we had a fireplace to keep us warm.

Oh, it was a fantastic holiday, but it was freezing at night. Luckily we had a fireplace to keep us warm.

 

We were quite lucky to find a new apartment as quickly as we did. It saved us a lot of money on hotel bills.

We were fortunate to find a new apartment as quickly as we did. It saved us a lot of money on hotel bills.

 

It took us quite a while to get from the airport to the city. The traffic was blocked for miles on the highway.

It took us ages to get from the airport to the city. The traffic was blocked for miles on the highway.

 

Related reading: An in-depth review of Grammarly

 

Bad Words

Bad words are the worst

I don’t mean swear words here. Bad words are those that confuse, are redundant or offer nothing for a reader.

The most common are adverbs ending in “ly”. I’ll get to them, but first on my list is a word that might surprise you.

 

This

This is one of the most overused, and often incorrectly applied pronouns. Why?

Because it refers to present and future and not to the past. When using a pronoun to refer to a noun that was in the preceding sentence, the correct pronoun is that.

Also, starting a sentence with this, when it has nothing to refer to is not effective or clear writing.

 

I broke my leg playing football. This is why I couldn’t go to work for two months.

I broke my leg playing football. That is why I couldn’t go to work for two months.

 

This will give you a laugh. Mary started going out with Nathan again.

You’ll laugh when I tell you the news. Mary started going out with Nathan again.

 

I know you studied hard, but this result tells you how hard it is to get into medical school. 

I know you studied hard, but the result tells you how hard it is to get into medical school. 

 

Obviously, clearly and actually

These three words can be deleted 99.9% of the time. In fact, all ‘ly’ adverbs should be used sparingly in moderation.

 

Obviously, there was nothing we could do to help her get over the loss of her mother.

There was nothing we could do to help her get over the loss of her mother.

 

Clearly, she had made up her mind, and there was no convincing her that she might be wrong.

She had made up her mind, and there was no convincing her that she might be wrong.

 

Actually, I ‘m from France, but my mother was English. That’s why my English language level is so good. But clearly, I have a slight accent.

I ‘m from France, but my mother was English. That’s why my English language level is so good. But I have a slight accent.

 

Adverbs in reported speech

Another set of adverbs that should be replaced with a much more descriptive expression.

 

“I don’t care what you think. You can’t get away with stealing money from your boss,” she said angrily.

“I don’t care what you think. You can’t get away with stealing money from your boss,” she said, as her face flushed with anger.

 

“You won’t believe it, but I got a job with a prestigious law firm in the city,” she said gleefully.

“You won’t believe it, but I got a job with a prestigious law firm in the city,” she said, grinning with delight.

 

“Oh, I’m so pleased that I passed all my exams,” she said happily.

“Oh, I’m so pleased that I passed all my exams,” she said with a beaming smile.

 

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning of this article, I could have written a long list of poor, weak and bad words that you should avoid in your writing.

The ones I have listed are all high on my delete or replace list when I am working on a second draft, or proofreading a blog post or article.

Along with the dreaded passive voice, all of these words are an instant recipe to lose your readers. Delete or re-write them all.

Keep your eyes open for these words in your writing, and when you spot one of them, take out your red pen, or delete key, and give them the chop.

Never worry about your word count. Deleting words distils and improves your writing.

 

Related reading: The Best Free Online Grammar And Spell Checkers

 

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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

2 thoughts on “Bad Words And Weak Words That Every Writer Should Avoid

  • A timely reminder, as I’m editing a manuscript now. Thanks for posting.

    Reply
  • Like Joe, I, too, am editing a manuscript. This is an excellent reminder. Some of those words have crept into it, I noticed yesterday. I’m in the process of deleting or replacing them. A great reminder of others I’ve not noticed, though. Thanks.

    Reply

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