Words To Avoid In Writing (Including Rules and Phrases)

Tomas Laurinavicius
Updated on April 5, 2024
Words To Avoid In Writing (Including Rules and Phrases)

Have you ever found it challenging to understand someone because of how they were writing?

Like a messy desk, untidy writing can cause problems when someone else needs to understand what you’ve written. Removing unnecessary words and phrases ensures that your message is as straightforward as possible for anyone who has to read it instead of just for yourself.

When you’re revising any piece of writing, there are certain words you want to remove to make your text tighter. These should help speed up the pacing of action and dialogue and make your work more polished and professional.

There isn’t a definitive list for every type of writing out there, but some words tend to be useless and should be omitted when doing revisions.

Here are ten commandments to improve your writing.

Don’t use too many adverbs

Adverbs—those words that often end in -ly—are helpful but should be used sparingly. If a verb is not strong enough to convey the meaning you are trying to express, use a stronger verb instead of adding an adverb.

Don’t use too many prepositional phrases

Prepositions are words that often pop up before nouns and pronouns. Fortunately, there are ways to rid your writing of these phrases. If you can eliminate phrases like “towards the end” or “from the middle,” or any other prepositional phrase from your sentence, it will instantly become shorter and more easily understood by most people.

Don’t use ambiguous modifiers

A squinting modifier is a misplaced sentence element that could modify either the phrase that precedes it or the one that follows it because of its unclear location in the sentence. Move their positions to make them clear to your readers.

Don’t use vague pronoun references

When pronouns are used, they should always have something to “stand” on, which means no pronoun should be used without a clear antecedent (a noun – person, place, or thing). Making sure that pronouns do not go without a reference is a matter of paying attention to your writing so as not to confuse the reader.

Don’t use Comma Splices

To splice means to join or connect. Writers often use a comma to join two independent clauses or sentences together in place of a semicolon, period, or coordinating conjunction.

Don’t use Run-on Sentences

Run-on sentences consist of two or more complete sentences incorrectly connected without proper punctuation or coordinating conjunction. An easy way to identify whether run-on sentences are present is by noticing an abrupt transition in writing and then finding the error in speech construction.

These errors can either be long or short sentences depending on the length of each clause in the sentence and how much time it would take you to correct them. Regardless of their size, both types of run-ons need to be fixed before considering correct punctuations.

Don’t use inflated sentences

Clean up your prose by minimizing superfluous language that serves nothing but to distract and confuse. This helps deliver more accurate, straightforward text that reflects precisely what you want to say in a much more efficient way.

Don’t use excessive sentences

Shakespeare has rightly said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Use that as guidance by never using ten sentences when two will suffice. Avoid overusing words such as “that,” “just,” and “very” in your work because it will only make reading more difficult for the reader.

Don’t use “could of” instead of “could have”:

“Could have” is always acceptable; “could of” never is. Writers probably make this grammar error because when we speak, the contraction “could’ve” sounds an awful lot like “could of.”

Don’t use Tautologies

Tautologies are phrases that have identical meanings. For example, “Can you jump?” and “Can you jump up and down?” Both sentences mean the same thing. You can have a lot of fun with these kinds of phrases. Often, like non-tautology phrases, they add emphasis or leave out extraneous information: dilapidated ruins, close proximity, added bonus, large crowd. The list goes on and on!

Now that you know which grammar mistakes you should avoid, here is a list of words for a quick scan that might work as your cheat sheet when proofreading or editing:

All the time. This is a redundant phrase, and avoid it all the time.

About. Don’t use this word to estimate because it does not specify anything. Use the word ‘approximately’ instead. Or even better, use a range.

Absolutely necessary or absolutely essential. The words “necessary” or “essential” themselves express the urgency of that matter. Avoid the redundant absolutely.

Add an extra/an additional. The words extra or additional work as a tautology here. Avoid them to tighten your phrasing.

Each and every. Don’t use filler words like “each and every” day. Use compact words, such as daily instead.

As yet. This is an example of a filler that you don’t need in your sentences.

In order to. Eliminate the excess verbiage ‘in order to’ and use ‘to’ instead.

Basically, actually, totally, completely, absolutely, literally, actually. All these filler words are basically, actually, totally, completely, absolutely, literally, actually useless and frustrating to read.

Some. This is an ambiguous word. Add specifications like something, someone, somewhere, somebody instead.

Very, really, quite, rather, extremely. These filler words are really, very, quite, rather, extremely frustrating to read.

At the end of the day, at this point of time, at this present time. These are empty phrases that don’t add value to your piece. Use specific words like “ultimately”, “now”, “today”, etc., instead.

Simply, pretty, just. You don’t need these vague words. Don’t use them often, pretty please.

As a matter of fact. This is an empty phrase that you do not need.

For all intent and purposes, for the most part. Empty phrases. Use those sparingly.

Fly through the air, sit down, jump up. You can write fly, sit or jump instead. The rest is already intended.

Sort of, kind of. Empty phrases. You sort of kind of don’t need them to write.

Probably. You are probably too smart to use such an empty word.

As a rule. As a rule, you should avoid such vague phrases at all costs.

Frequently. Rhis is an example of a vague phrase that you should not use often.

With regard to, in reference to. These are prepositional phrases that do not add much to your writing.

Due to the fact, in fact. Avoid using these.

I believe/I think/ in my opinion. This might be hard, but your opinion rarely matters in professional writing.

Needless to say. If it is needless to say something, do not say it.

It is important to note that. It’s important to note that your writing should be clean and precise.

During the course of. During the course of this article, we have learned what to use and what not to use. This is another example of a redundant phrase that you should avoid while writing.

In an essay titled Politics and the English Language, George Orwell gave out a few pointers.

Here they are:

  • Never incorporate a metaphor, simile, or other figures of speech.
  • Never go for a long word when a short one can do.
  • If there is a scope to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Always use an active voice.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a jargon word, or a scientific word, as your reader might not be aware of those.

There you have it: keep your writing simple, brief, active, free of clichés, and to the point. Follow this advice, and you are golden!

Tomas Laurinavicius

Hi! I'm Tomas, a writer and growth marketer from Lithuania, living in Spain. I'm always involved in multiple projects driven by my curiosity. Currently, I'm a marketing advisor at Devsolutely and a partner at Craftled, building Best Writing and Marketful. Let's connect on X and LinkedIn.