I’m always reminding myself to stop using so, so often in my writing.
But it’s not so easy. It is, along with for, and, nor, but, or and yet, one of the main coordinating conjunctions we use all the time.
It’s rare that you would find writing advice to limit the use of the first six of these words, but so seems to be the exception.
So, in the words of Professor Julius Sumner Miller, why is it so?
Why you should stop using so, so much in writing
Unlike other coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS ), so has many more meanings and uses.
It makes it such an easy word to use in so many contexts and saves thinking too much about word choice.
But when it occurs too often, it can be a sign of laziness or a lack of thought.
If overused, the repetition will make any writing much weaker.
Quite often, the word is unnecessary, and you can easily delete it.
Many stronger and more precise words can express the same or similar meaning and improve the quality of a text.
However, this is not to say that you should avoid using so completely. It’s a very useful word in certain situations.
The problems arise when it is used too frequently.
When I’m writing a draft, I don’t worry about it. But when I edit a text, hunting out my uses of the word so is one of my first tasks.
Almost every time, I delete or make changes to reduce or eliminate the word.
Why we use it so often
With the number of uses, it’s easy to understand why we can overuse it.
Here is a quick summary.
As a conjunction:
And for this reason or therefore.
With the aim that or in order that.
And then or as the next step.
Introducing a question following on from what was said previously.
Introducing a concluding statement.
As an adverb:
To such a great extent.
Extremely, very much, or for emphasis.
Referring back to something previously mentioned.
You can find many more uses in your dictionary.
But this short list gives you a good indication of why we use the word perhaps more than necessary.
How to stop using so
The easiest way is to look at when you use so and consider replacing or deleting it.
You can use the find function in your word processor to help you find all occurrences.
Ask yourself, is it necessary, or can I say this in a different way?
Remember that you don’t need to remove the word completely from your writing.
However, reducing the frequency will make your writing more concise, informative, and interesting to read.
Let’s look at some examples to give you a few ideas.
Editing a conjunction
Using so to indicate a reason or consequence is perhaps one of the most common uses.
Heather felt quite ill yesterday, so she went to the doctor.
You could change this sentence in a few ways to fix it by using other words to indicate a reason.
Because Heather felt quite ill yesterday, she went to the doctor.
Heather went to the doctor yesterday as she was feeling quite ill.
Due to feeling quite ill yesterday, Heather went to the doctor.
Another common use is for the next step, or and then.
So once you finish your list, you can sort it alphabetically.
Let’s make some changes to the sentence.
After you finish your list, you can sort it alphabetically.
You can sort your list alphabetically when you finish it.
You can almost always find words that work as well, if not better, to join two clauses.
It only takes a few seconds to make an improvement.
Editing the adverb
Unlike conjunctions, adverbs are much easier to delete or replace.
Very often, so is either an unnecessary word or can be replaced with a stronger adjective or verb.
It’s so annoying when I find a typo in an article I published.
It’s infuriating when I find a typo in an article I published.
My boss speaks so quickly I have trouble understanding everything he says.
My boss speaks very fast, which means I have trouble understanding everything he says.
So, what I meant to say was that it can be confusing.
What I meant to say was that it can be confusing.
Small changes like these are simple and can help you reduce your usage of so in your writing.
So is invading writing and speaking
In the past twenty years, so has increased in use. You could surmise that it’s a result of more informal discourse on social media.
But that’s not the case. In books, so has increased in use quite dramatically since 2000.
But in news on both television and in print, so has become a problematic word for people.
It’s the throw away so at the start of an introductory phrase, that is most at issue.
So, what’s the reaction to the government’s change in policy?
So, why are so many people reacting negatively to these reports?
So, where does the minister go from here?
I found this quote in an article in The Guardian on the so topic.
“The misplaced ‘so’ has invaded everyday speech like some noxious weed in an untended garden.”
An NPR article on the topic of so has an interesting quote:
“It’s like a lot of other grammatical fixations: Not everybody cares about it, but the ones who do care care a whole lot.”
So, yes, we use it a lot, but that doesn’t mean that it is the best word choice in speaking or writing.
There’s no rule against using so in writing. In fact, it’s sometimes the best or only way to say precisely what you want to say.
Without it, one of my favorite quotes wouldn’t exist.
Time is an illusion.: lunchtime doubly so. – Douglas Adams
But there are many times when it’s better to stop using so and find an alternative.
When you come to editing a text, take a close look at your usage.
If you find you use so more than three or four times in a 1,000-word text; it’s probably a good idea to make some changes.
So, what do you think?
Related Reading: Until, Till, And ’Til – The Correct Use In Writing