5 Words You Almost Never Need in a Sentence

5 Words You Almost Never Need in a Sentence

My high school English teacher called them “deadwood.” I’ve heard them called “inflation words,” “filler,” “fluff,” “clutter” and “couch potato words.” You probably have another pet name for them.

They’re the words you almost never need in a sentence. They occupy space, trip tongues and take readers down a long, winding path when a short, straight one would do.

Many exist, but a few grind my gears, because they show up in everything I edit. Once you commit this list to memory, they’ll jump off the page, and you won’t believe you ever deigned to include them before. 

5 words you (almost) never need in a sentence

Cut these from your writing! Here are five words you never need in a sentence.

1. Different

Writers use “different” often to indicate variety, but I rarely encounter a “different” I can’t cut from a sentence without changing the sentence’s meaning.

  • We have many different types of soup. → We have many types of soup.
  • Each waiter serves a different segment of the restaurant. → Each waiter serves a segment of the restaurant.
  • You have several different options for dinner. → You have options for dinner.

The words “types,” “segment” and “options” each imply difference, so the word is unnecessary. And the sentences are sharper without the redundancy. Notice the cut “several” in the third example, too. It’s just another way to say “different,” so that original sentence is drowning in fat.

2. That

I built this into my routine years ago after getting this self-editing tip from TWL’s founder Alexis Grant: Nix “that.”

It rolls off the tongue when you speak, but it clutters your written sentences. Plus, it’s easy to cut: Literally CTRL+F your document for “that,” and cut it anywhere you can without convoluting your sentence.

  • Can you believe that she doesn’t want to come with us? → Can you believe she doesn’t want to come with us?
  • I know that you don’t want this. → I know you don’t want this.
  • She decided that she’d go after all. → She decided she’d go after all.

3. Currently

It feels necessary, I know. You feel like you have to say “I currently work at Acme Co.” But you don’t. “I work at Acme Co.” means the same thing.

In rare cases, “currently” may help clarify what is now versus another time. But most of the time, a simple present-tense verb will do the trick.

  • She’s currently dating Taylor, but she was married to Jamie before. → She’s dating Taylor, but she was married to Jamie before.
  • I’m currently between jobs. → I’m between jobs.
  • Currently, you have two options for student loans. → You have two options for student loans.

4. Certain, specific or particular

Confoundingly, these words are vague, which makes them useless to most sentences. I can’t tell whether writers use them in an attempt to narrow the definition of a noun or for emphasis. Either way, they don’t work.

Cutting these will strengthen a sentence, but replacing them with a more precise modifier will do even better.

  • A specific location → a location → a location to be named by your instructor
  • A certain amount → an amount→ a large amount
  • Your particular problems → your problems → your unusual problems

5. Very, really, totally — any emphasizing adverb

Instead of adding a boring adverb to emphasize the greatness of an adjective or verb — e.g. “really big” or “greatly appreciate” — use a stronger adjective or verb on its own.

Instances of these adverbs abound, but here are a few examples and alternatives, from simple to I-obviously-own-a-thesaurus.

  • Very big → Huge, gigantic, enormous, prodigious
  • Really want → desire, crave, covet, yearn for
  • Extremely tall → giant, towering, soaring, altitudinous
  • Highly likely → probable, feasible, expected, anticipated 
  • Totally surprised → astonished, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, nonplused
  • Greatly appreciated → applauded, relished, treasured, extolled
  • Truly believe → affirm, conclude, suppose, ratiocinate

This article was originally published in Notes newsletter, a monthly selection of pet peeves, warnings, advice, secrets and pro-tips for pitching, writing and — above all — keeping editors happy.

Photo via Lamai Prasitsuwan / Shutterstock 

Filed Under: Craft

15 comments

  • Shaun S. says:

    My challenge is the opposite. I tend to cut back too much. I’m always struggling to meet the transition word target of 30% in the Yoast SEO app.

  • Rosemary Pizzullo says:

    When people write or say “almost never” is extremely irritating to me. It is either “almost” or “never”. It can’t be both. However, a lot of people who well educated use this. Also, it is more acceptable now.

  • Michele says:

    I’m guilty. This was help I didn’t realize I needed. Thank you.

  • I think, most people these days prefer SEO friendly words. Seems, literature is somewhere losing its existence in the realm of the Internet. There is certainly a dilemma. ‘Whether to choose proper words” or “to choose SEO friendly words to rank higher in search results”. How do you see this?

  • Esther O'Hara says:

    The word gotten is widely used now is this correct I find it most annoying

  • SHELAGH GORDON TALBOT says:

    Altitudinous! What a great word – have never used it in a sentence before but now am rethinking!

  • Roumen says:

    Thank you. Very (see what I did here) useful piece. Grammarly would love you. But I’m not sure when and where the obsession with short sentences began.

  • Oh, this made me smile! I’m tagging you on LinkedIn because of “that” being on your list. You brought back memories …

  • Cole Young says:

    Yes, I have felt these ‘buffer’ words to be getting in the way. It’s good to have you confirm. Like Neil, I’ve managed to eliminate ‘that’ and ‘very’, but ned to work on the others. Thanks for “that”!

  • Robbin Rogers says:

    In order to when it is not ordered.

  • C de la Nougerede says:

    The words you picked on are in common use, whereas your alternatives tend to be more unusual.
    Ernest Hemmingway said, “use simple language”.
    The alternatives tend to sound as if you are trying to be posh. “I’m an Educated Writer. I use unusual words.”

  • Ngigi says:

    Very enlightened. I use these often verbally, thus when I write, it spills over. Thank you so much Dana

  • Georgia says:

    I must confess, I use “currently” and “different” often in my stories and essays. This article is so appreciated. I once had an writing instructor tell me how unnecessary “that” is in most sentences. Whenever I proof my work, I’ve never forgotten his tip. Now, thanks to you, I won’t forget the remaining four unnecessary words either!

  • I totally disagree with you on every one of these.
    I have been writing for over fifty years, in radio, TV, newspaper, and now with seven books.
    And, currently, I really believe that while those are words that need to be used differently, each with a certain specific or particular emphasis, they are a very important part of our vocabulary as writers.
    Of course, I could be wrong.

  • Neil Larkins says:

    I am guilty of using all of these. I learned to eliminate that a few years ago, but these others still manage to get into my work. They really do. Thanks

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