Empty Words

This is a follow-up to my previous post about redundant words. Today I’m going to alert you to some unnecessary words that can creep into your writing and clog your sentences.

But first I want to issue a warning. Eliminating empty words is a key to good writing – but it’s not the only one.

If you (like me) often look at writing guides, you’ll see that they’re full of warnings about redundancies like “Jewish rabbi” (of course the rabbi is Jewish!) and “in the event that” (if works just as well). Sometimes it seems that redundancy is the only problem that writers should watch for.

Not true! Crisp, powerful sentences are only one of the keys to effective writing. You also need logic, clarity, and flow – and attaining those qualities isn’t easy.

It’s fun to rewrite an absurd sentence like “The fluid supply in my writing implement is exhausted” (“My pen is out of ink”). It’s a lot harder to write a sentence that impresses you with its power.

OK – back to empty words!

Really, very, absolutely – There’s no difference between an interesting book and a really interesting book – or between a wonderful movie and an absolutely wonderful movie.

Quite, rather, somewhat – I hate these words. “Mr. Jeffries is rather nice.” He either is or he isn’t! Ditch “rather.”

Currently – There’s no difference between “I currently live in Florida” and “I live in Florida.”

Existing – Usually unnecessary. “Existing palms may be attacked by the palmetto weevil.” If the trees didn’t exist, the weevils couldn’t attack them!

Actually, literally – Usually unnecessary.

You should also watch for unneeded announcements: In my opinion, I am going to discuss, I believe, It’s clear that, Needless to say. Here’s my favorite example: someone will say, “Can I ask a question?” My invariable response is, “You just did!”

Here are two more examples of wording you usually don’t need:

Whereupon (“He fell to the floor, whereupon I called 911.” I would write, “When he fell to the floor, I called 911.”)

Proceeded to (“After my friends left, I proceeded to clear the dishes and put away the snacks.” My version: “After my friends left, I cleared the dishes and put away the snacks.”)

A fuel tank on empty


2 thoughts on “Empty Words

  1. Tony Leo

    Excellent article! Thank you for writing this. I think the habits of using these empty words were formed at work, in corporate meetings to writing emails to sound “smart”!

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