Filler words and phrases are precisely what the name implies. They fill space.
We often use them when we speak while waiting for our words to arrive. Typical examples are, um, uh, and what I’m trying to say is…
But in writing, we don’t need to hesitate or fill space.
However, we tend to write as we speak, so these utterances can slip easily into our writing.
What are filler words and phrases?
The easiest definition is that they are words that add no genuine meaning or benefit to a sentence.
In other cases, the extra words are unnecessary and serve no purpose other than to add words.
Good writing is clear, concise, and to the point, which makes reading and comprehension easier.
However, clinically removing all fillers can make a text bland and boring. We always need to add a little seasoning from time to time.
Your soup tastes better with a pinch of salt, but you would ruin it if you added two spoonfuls.
The same applies to writing.
When editing a text, you need to find a balance between clarity and the ease or pleasure of reading.
You can find many lists of words that add little value to a text. But I’ll concentrate on the ones that often require the most attention.
These are not rules to follow, only recommendations, because every writer has a different style.
Let’s have a look at some common fillers, and you can decide which ones you might choose to consider in your writing.
1. Very, really, and just
These three words are always candidates for deletion in any sentence.
They rarely add any value other than unnecessary emphasis. It’s easy to edit them out by choosing a better word.
We’re all familiar with the quote by Mark Twain about the word very.
Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Here are a few examples of editing these three words.
I was very satisfied with the results of the survey.
I was delighted with the results of the survey.
Susan is really good at solving technical issues with websites.
Susan is excellent at solving technical issues with websites.
Mark just wants to know when you are arriving.
Mark wants to know when you are arriving. (Just is unnecessary.)
But be careful. Sometimes the word is needed.
Can I call you back? I just arrived at the station and need to find a taxi.
In this example, the word just is essential to the meaning. Without it, there is no sense of time or immediacy.
2. Basically, currently and actually
Adverbs that end in LY need to be used sparingly.
Very often, they are fluff in writing that adds little value and can be quickly deleted or replaced to improve a sentence.
currently working for a bank in London.
All I need
basically is the motivation to start writing my book.
Mike is not a journalist,
actually. He’s a copywriter.
3. There is, there are, there was
There is a dummy subject in a sentence, and it is called the grammatical expletive.
The word expletive comes from Latin, meaning to fill or fill out. That makes it an ideal candidate for my list of filler words and phrases.
Whenever I see a sentence starting with there, I always take a moment to see if I can remove it.
The easiest way is to find the real subject and move it to the beginning of the sentence.
There are a lot of new writers who are publishing new books on Amazon.
A lot of new writers are publishing new books on Amazon.
There was a bank robbery in our town today.
A bank robbery happened in our town today.
Once you get into the habit, it’s a simple trick to tighten your writing.
4. In order to, for the purpose of
The imperative form is the best when providing instructions because it’s clear and to the point.
A prefacing statement is often unwarranted.
In order to upgrade your site, click on the red box.
For the purpose of upgrading your site, click on the red box.
To upgrade your site, click on the red box.
Click on the red box to upgrade your site.
5. In the event that, as to whether, it’s possible that
If is a terrific word. It’s short, to the point, and easily understood.
When you need to state a possibility, it’s often the best option.
In the event that you have a problem, contact our helpline.
As to whether you need help, it’s up to you.
It’s possible that you may need assistance, so we’re here to help.
If you have a problem, contact our helpline.
It’s up to you if you need help.
If you need assistance, we’re here to help.
6. It is important to note, needless to say
Both of these expressions are fillers and add nothing of value.
Deleting them is often the best solution.
It’s important to note that the meeting will start at ten sharp. Needless to say, the CEO will chair the meeting.
7. Phrasal verb particles
We use phrasal verbs mostly in informal writing. They are one of the unique features of English.
But some can use a particle (preposition or adverb) that is not necessary in certain contexts.
They are easy to find when editing.
The waiter greeted us and said we could sit
down at any table.
up when the anthem started.
down to the store. Do you need anything?
Filler words and phrases are not governed by rules, only suggestions.
Depending on your writing style and voice, you will occasionally use some to lighten a text.
For online writing, you usually want your writing to be conversational and easy to read, so some fillers help with this style.
If you remove every possible occurrence, your writing could become too academic or dull.
Use them when it feels right, but remember that too much salt ruins the soup.
Related Reading: Really And Very Are (Not Always) Poor Word Choices