Words To Avoid In Writing That Say Or Do Next To Nothing

Words To Avoid In Writing That Say Nothing

If you are a writer, I’m sure you have a list of words to avoid in writing.

They might be words you use too often, by habit, or that you know are weak or vague.

Writing is not as easy as it seems. For new writers, it takes time to realize that certain words and phrases can weaken a text.

But discovering the most common words to avoid or delete is a pretty rapid process once you set a simple rule. If it says or does nothing, delete it.

How do you determine words to avoid in writing?

Every writer will have a different opinion, depending on the type and style of writing.

A fiction writer and an article writer will have different ideas about words that work and those that don’t.

But they would have words in common that are repetitive, vague, or redundant.

I’d be surprised if any writer didn’t have the three most common words to omit on their list: just, really, and very.

Other considerations about vocabulary relate to clarity, precision, and degree. In other words, is my writing and message clear for my reader?

Outdated or uncommon words are also candidates.

I find it annoying if I’m reading an online opinion or how-to article and suddenly words like “henceforth and forthwith” appear in the text for no good reason.

I want to learn something new when I read, not study Shakespearean English.

Another category is filler words.

These phrases often serve no purpose other than increasing the word count.

 

10 Words to avoid, omit or replace in writing

The following list is not definitive by any means.

It is my opinion about words, word groups, or phrases I find irritating or serve little practical purpose.

You probably know about many of them, but there might be a few that you can add to your list.

 

1. Thus and hence

I’m not fond of these two words, and when I see them in online or fiction writing, it irritates me.

They are outdated adverbs that belong in literary or formal writing.

Some inexperienced writers may think using words like these makes them sound smart.

But it doesn’t, because the register is wrong. Mixing formal and informal writing is a mistake.

I got a huge salary increase, thus allowing me to buy a new car. Poor

I got a huge salary increase allowing me to buy a new car. Better

I got a huge salary increase so I can buy a new car. Best

The only word that annoys me more is thusly.

Like the word thus, hence is a word that is rarely suitable in most forms of creative writing.

You can replace it with that being so, that being the case, or on that account, but they aren’t much better.

The easiest and most concise way is to use so.

The forecast is for heavy rain; hence I need to take an umbrella.

The forecast is for heavy rain, so I need to take an umbrella.

When hence means in the future, use in.

Two years hence you could believe something different.

In two years, you could believe something different.

Similar words to avoid in creative or online writing are henceforth, henceforward, and hitherto.

 

2. A lot, a lot of, and lots of

In any form, these words say and do nothing to help a reader.

All you need to do is replace them with a more accurate definition of quantity.

Lots of people use Facebook.

Millions of people use Facebook.

I’ve got a lot of good friends.

I’ve got around twenty good friends.

A lot of the problems with the Internet are caused by weak passwords.

Most of the problems with the Internet are caused by weak passwords.

It’s an easy fix and one that instantly adds more precision.

 

3. Beware of LY adverbs

Use these words with moderation and caution.

You can’t avoid all LY adverbs and adjectives, but you can limit them.

When an adverb is redundant, you can usually omit it.

The parking lot is completely full.

The movie was absolutely awful.

The pot plant was fully dead.

It was absolutely the last straw for him.

In these examples, the adverbs say nothing. If something is dead, it’s dead, so there is little point in grading or modifying it.

The simple guide is to avoid modifying absolute adjectives.

Adverbs in dialogue tags are also usually unnecessary or redundant.

Examples:

She whispered quietly.

He shouted angrily.

She whimpered mournfully.

He said, and she said, are often the best option.

 

4. Just, very, already, quite, fairly, really, somewhat, totally, and actually

I could have just made a list with these words that you already know to totally fill this article.

But actually, I think it’s fairly obvious that these words are quite useless.

Do you really need to know more?

I somewhat doubt it.

 

5. It goes without saying but with much aforethought

Insomuch as I love English vocabulary, there are some phrases that, on pensive reflection, are merely waffle.

Notwithstanding your need to impress, it’s better to make a point without these filler words.

Get to the issue and make it clear.

Pointless filler phrases in English can, without a shadow of a doubt, drive a reader crazy.

 

6. If or when?

If I have the choice, I prefer to use when to create a zero conditional.

It’s an action word that says something will happen (not if) and then needs a decision or action.

If I need medical advice, I’ll call my doctor. (First conditional)

When I need medical advice, I call my doctor. (Zero conditional)

 

7. There is, there are, or it will be

When you start a sentence with there is, or it was, you are using the grammatical expletive.

It’s usually a waste of words that you can replace without much effort.

There are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t take my advice.

You shouldn’t take my advice for lots of reasons.

You’ve got lots of reasons not to take my advice.

There is, and there are, are always good candidates to avoid when you can.

 

8. Clefts are awkward

Cleft sentences have a use but only in moderation.

We use this form when we want to make one element of a sentence more important.

It was Apple that invented the iPhone. (Cleft)

Apple invented the iPhone. (No cleft)

I think it’s obvious that the second example is better to use.

 

9. Irregardless and other misused words

Well, yes, irregardless sneaked into our language in the mid-19th century.

But it’s a nothing word that means regardless.

Always avoid misused words like this, along with others like anyways, excetera and expresso.

 

10. Something, someone, and anything

Try to limit the use of indefinite pronouns whenever possible.

You can often replace a pronoun or rewrite a sentence to be more precise.

Someone returned my wallet that I lost on the bus.

A very kind lady returned my wallet that I lost on the bus.

If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.

Let me know if you need help.

 

Summary

Good writing is concise, clear, to the point, and easy to read.

When you are editing or proofreading, look for words that are unnecessary, vague, or a mismatch of formality.

I limited my list above to the most common points from my perspective. But I’m sure you could add many more.

For new writers, a good idea is to start making a list of words and phrases you often need to replace or omit.

Then you can use it as a quick reference when editing or proofreading.

But you can always use this rule for words to avoid in writing. If in doubt, chop it out.

 

Related reading: Fluff In Writing And How To Wipe Away Your Filler Words

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent writing and blogging, as well as testing and taming new technology.

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One thought on “Words To Avoid In Writing That Say Or Do Next To Nothing

  • Avatar for Irene Pylypec
    June 10, 2022 at 7:34 pm
    Permalink

    Good advice. I intended to add “as always” to the sentence but don’t know how to use strike-through on my phone.

    Reply

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