Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Five Weak Words that Make Your Writing Less Effective

Bonus: For more tips on becoming a stronger writer delivered directly to your inbox for free, click here.

I can’t stand frail, weak writing. And neither can you. You know when you’ve read content that compels you to do something that matters and when something bores you to tears. You may just not know exactly why.

And you need to be able to identify those words that weaken your writing so that you can stamp them out of your vocabulary.

Weak Words in Writing

Photo credit: Jon Clegg (Creative Commons)

Words are the lifeblood of your writing. They’re what you use to build credibility or diminish it.

Words matter. They’re what make your arguments more compelling, your prose stronger, and your craft more captivating.

Untrained writers can be careless with their words. It takes discipline to use these tools well. Here are five lazy words that make your writing weaker and how to fix them:

“Stuff”

Stuff is a lazy word. Only use it sparingly when you’re intentionally trying to be informal.

Instead, use a more descriptive noun.

“Things”

Things is another lazy word. People often overuse it. While not always inappropriate, it also should be used on rare occasions.

Things is nondescript and can often be replaced with much better nouns, such as “reasons” or “elements” or “issues” and so on…

“Got”

Got is a terrible verb. It means “obtaining something” or can also be used as a helping verb like have. More often than not, got can usually go away.

Instead of saying “I got up”, say “I woke up.”

Instead of saying, “I got a baseball”, say, “I have a baseball” or “I found a baseball.”

Not only is got a lazy word; it is also vague. In the last sentence does “got” mean “found” or “have”?

“Was/Is/Are/Am”

Often people will say something like, “I was there” or “We were at the party.”

In these cases, the writers are using different versions of the verb to be when they could be employing better action words.

For example, you could instead say, “I stood silently in the kitchen” or “My wife and I arrived late to the party.”

“Went”

Went is like are. There are a hundred other verbs that you could exchange for went.

Instead of saying, “I went to the store,” you could say, “I walked to the store” or, “I drove my car to buy some groceries at the store.”

Went is a lame word — vague, boring, lackluster.

As are am, got, stuff, and things. Here are a few more words and phrases to use sparingly:

  • very
  • all
  • important
  • used to
  • every
  • never
  • feel
  • seem
  • think
  • often
  • almost
  • big
  • small
  • have got
  • just

Stop using them in your writing.

Or at very least, think twice before whipping out a simplistic, overused word like are.

Words lose their meaning when we use them carelessly. Take your time, carefully considering how you will utilize the best words possible.

When you write, your copy wields great potential. Don’t squander it.

Bonus: For more tips on becoming a stronger writer delivered directly to your inbox for free, click here.

What are some other weak words that make your writing less effective? I’m sure I didn’t cover them all. Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Travis Kincher

    “Though” (or “although”) is one that I’ve been self-consciously trying to excise. Along with “just”, they all seem to water down whatever statements they’re used with.

    • It’s just that I really do love though…

  • Kittenlover

    This is really good! I never really thought that words as simple as those would make writing a lot less afective but then I went back, took a paragraph with a lot of these words and compared it to it after I replaced them.. such a difference! Thank you sooo much!
    So keeping this page in my favs!

    • you’re welcome! thanks for sharing.

  • “Even”  As in: “She even told me not to buy that dress.” 

    Love your manifesto by the way!Jenhttps://www.jenniferlynnalvarez.com/

    • Thanks, Jen. I’m honored you read it.

  • Gilbehil

    Hi Jeff,
    I recently subscribed and your posts are excellent. One of my professors taught me this: replace passive statements with active ones, and common words with “juicy” synonyms. Every time I do this, the lazy words fly out of my sentences (I hope!). 🙂

    • Awesome. Thanks for reading!

    • F. Armsytong Green

      “Juicy”? No. Simple and direct is the goal. Throw your thesaurus away.

  • Marykathryntyson

    In high school, I had a history teacher tell us that words like ‘feel’ and ‘think’ make weak arguments. I’m a heart person, so words like these are a natural part of my own vernacular, but I do try to use them sparingly. I can’t use them without seeing the face he made and tone he used when he told us.

    Great list. Thanks!

    xo

  • Mr Mrs Remington

    I am grateful to be introduced to your website “before” I began seriously writing. Thanks to a new published author (2011) Janet Oberholtzer. The title of her book is: Because I Can-Doing What I Can, With What I Have, Where I Am. http://www.janetoberholtzer.com 

  • Kitoomal

    Thanks for the list. I am mailing it to my personal email address. It may not be easy to avoid those words – at least initially – but I will try adopting Kwyatt’s method. Oh…by the way…I love your writing style. It’s revolutionary. As I’m writing from my office PC, I won’t leave my blog URL.

  • Ruth Barringham

    There is a story by Mark Twain, he says every time you want to write the word “very” change it to “damn” instead. Your editor will delete it, and you’re writing will be just as good without it.

    I love that story because  it’s so true (or should that be so damn true?).

    • Writerdeman

      This post was so damn good, I like, copied it.

    • Luuiis1

      you need to check “your” spellling too.

      • F. Armsytong Green

        “You’re” for “your” is illiterate or the mark of a lazy writer who doesn’t self-edit. (Some call it “proof” but you can’t proof your own work. That’s the first rule of proofreading.) Shamefully, I find typing is easier than thinking–I’ve committed the sin of “You’re” for “your” or vice versa because I’m thinking about where I’m goind with my writing rather than where I am. Remember: it’s not “one word after another”; it’s one word in front of another.

  • “and” 🙂

  • Olivia Mawhinney

    The weakest word I have ever read, or employed, would be the word SO. It makes the writer seem incompetent and teenager-y. I cringe every time I read it! 

  • Good advice. Thank you for posting it.

  • Thank you for this list of words Jeff. I’m editing my posts and the shift is amazing when you begin to replace these words with alternative and  more descriptive words. I am guilty of being a lazy writer LOL. I feel like I am seeing my posts with new eyes and it’s awesome.

  • Louis Delos Angeles

    Ha! Words really animate the thoughts that comes from my mind… will take note of these words 

  • ted

    Now I am so self conscious, I cannot write a comment.   I had better check the list.  And, I am afraid to look at my blog now.  Love the ideas and comments, and looking forward to putting this little kernel of knowledge to use.  My big obsession, however is Punctuation.  Going to my blog now… weeping to ensue.

  • How am I supposed to remember all of those? 🙂

  • One of my current bete-noirs is ‘has the ability to’ or ‘is able to’ rather than ‘can’. I’m an editorial director, so I edit the work of freelancers frequently and this stupid phrase makes me so cross! I recently advertised for a writer and many applicants in their submissions assured me they ‘had the ability to engage readers/write on a range of topics/convey passion’ etc. They clearly were not critical, observant and curious users of language. Their own sloppy writing condemned them! I believe as writers we have to be aware of new trends in usage and ruthless in deciding if they’re a load of silly waffle or not.

    Feel better now I’ve said that.

    • F. Armsytong Green

      You are right.

  • Your_mom

    I learned this in 6th grade. My teacher’s name was Beth and she told us she’d give us an F if we turned in a story that ended with someone waking up.

    • T_Wu

      Obviously, Beth hadn’t seen Abre Los Ojos (1997). What a shame! Luckily, she wasn’t the teacher Alejandro Amenábar.

      Don’t watch Spanish movies? How about the cheapened Hollywood remake starring Tom Cruise, Vanilla Sky? Still a Penelope Cruz Classic though.

  • Victoria Rodney

    This is a helpful article! I agree with the weak words, and sadly I use them often! I will be stopping! Haha!

  • How about “say?”

    •  Or ‘like’ .   Not as a comparative or that you like something or someone, but “I was going to buy …..but like,  it was like…too like expensive.”   I have actually heard someone use the word ‘LIKE’  in that context.  I work with her.  I even tried to introduce this person to novels so that she’d expand her vocabulary a bit, but she doesn’t read novels.  

      • F. Armsytong Green

        Reading novels helps us live our lives better. Anyone who does not read good novels is slighting himself.

  • Elizabeth Brandow

    One word I’ve noticed being overused, is ‘that’. It’s a huge pet-peeve since I picked it up. ‘That’ also ruins an entire sentence if not used properly. 

  •    Once upon a time, I was dang defensive about my writing, and declared that if it wasn’t good enough, as is, then I wouldn’t write, period.  But it was like holding a pillow over my face and seeing how long I could go without breathing. Eventually I realized I HAD to write.  In reading my stories over, weeks or months later, I also learned the wisdom of editing! 

       There are times when I seem to have a ‘word of the day’  fetish and use that particular word whenever I come to a place in a statement or story. Boy, does that get boring in a hurry! 

      There is also a lady at work who is not a reader, and you would be able to tell after five minutes of listening to her.  She uses the word ‘like’  ad nauseum!   And she’s too old to be a Valley girl!  

      Thanks for the reminder!

    • F. Armsytong Green

      Yes, defensiveness is a problem. I’m glad to know you said “Once upon a time . . .” Growth can be stunted by the shadow (ego). It takes ego to write but it takes getting the ego out of your writing to write well.

  • Kathryn Kistner

    My DH
    overly-uses the term “mess”. I tease him about it every time he says
    it, asking… “Really? How big of a mess WAS it? Was it a bloody mess, a
    windblown mess, a confused mess, a wet mess, a jumbled mess, a stinking
    mess…?” It can go on and on! LOL! “Mess” communicates nothing of value; it
    transmits no precise information to contribute to my understanding! Ever!

    Tonight he
    described moving “it over there”. Really? WHAT is an IT? And WHERE is
    THERE? He uses “it” and “there”, sometimes several times a
    day, and can’t understand why **I** can’t follow his story. Only because I’m
    not psychic. Clearly.

    Then there’s
    the age-old lazy standby, “what’s-his-name” (not as often seen in
    print). My answer, of course, is, “I don’t know… (eyes wide, waiting for
    more data) …what IS his name?” He hates that! LOL!

    DH is an
    avid reader, so it MUST be laziness, as you said.

    I’ve noticed
    (we) women – more often than men – diminish the powerfulness of our ideas by
    adding modifiers to eliminate CERTAINTY:

    “probably”
    (no certainty);

    “might”
    (no certainty);

    “could”
    (no certainty);

    “seems”
    (no certainty, and already on your list);

    “a
    little” (no certainty);

    “somewhat”
    (no certainty);

    “perhaps”
    (no certainty);

    “maybe”
    (no certainty).

    Or, we turn
    the ideas into questions. Are we asking for approval? Consent? Agreement? Moral
    support? Or are we questioning ourselves? I’m sure you’ve seen this, especially of women of a certain age. Can’t be
    too confrontational. Can’t cause a stir! LOL! Be wishy-washy and you won’t be seen as a threat. I do it.

    Al Pittampalli commented,
    “These words show up often when we don’t feel confident in our material.” I
    believe that. I believe, more, it’s when we don’t feel confident in OURSELVES. I’m
    still toying with this new idea, but it SEEMS accurate (no certainty); still
    checking it out.

    I’ve noticed the word “awesomeness”
    showing up with increasing regularity in blog posts. The -ness part of the word
    confuses me. It seems irregular in its use. I’m uncomfortable with it because I don’t understand it.

  • Jack the Riffer

    This article is really good stuff. I never used to think it was important now I feel i have got it and think about  small words as well as big.   NICE .

    • Excellent!

    • F. Armsytong Green

      Sorry, Jack. “Really”? “Stuff”? A run-one sentence. And “have got”?

  • Dale Carroll-Coleman

    Add to your list, Bob and Don’s. They say  “that” is a cuss word….. man, I am running out of words!

    • F. Armsytong Green

      Has no one read Strunk and White? Sometimes you have to use “that.”

  • joan hagy

    Hi Jeff, 

    I’m loving this blog! I alway teach my 7th grade English students to bury certain words, never to be used again. The first we bury is “said”. I plan to return to this post to tweak my lesson plan and add some of the ones you’ve included. 

    • Really? What do you use instead?

      • There are so many wonderful words to use instead of “said”. Here’s a short list: cried, wailed, whispered, replied, asked, shouted, joked, asked, screamed, howled, etc… Of course, context is important. My students love coming up with new words to replace the boring ones. We make anchor charts for “said” and “went” and I ban them in their writing.

        • F. Armsytong Green

          Joan, this is bad advice and false teaching. As noted somewhere above, the eye glosses over “said.” And as Jeff says, “What do you use instead?”

  • It always amused me that ‘stuff’ appears in the Bible: Joshua 7:11 ‘Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff.’ Good points though.

  • How about the word “that” – I admit “that” sometimes I find myself using the word too frequently. What are your thoughts?

    Wendy Brooks

    MY BLOG | https://www.theendfocus.com
    TWITTER | https://www.twitter.com/theendfocus

  • Instead of saying “I woke up”, how about just saying “I woke?”  Up and down are also words that can often be eliminated from writing without any revision necessary at all — just remove it for tighter, cleaner prose.  “That” can often go as well. 

  • I tend to use the word “simply” a lot. And speaking of…”a lot” is a bit weak, too!

  • Awesome list. I bought your eBook “you are a writer” on another site this week. Since discovering your writing, i am hooked on the blog, newsletter and eBooks!

  • Mjmbluemoon

    “like” arghhhh!<3

  • letscutthecrap.wordpress.com

    I’m new here and like what you are doing here.

  • Goat

    You forgot THAT. Don’t use THAT. Probably mentioned THAT already….

  • jkhenderson3

    Okay, I cannot even type a comment without using those words! Had to delete what I first started typing. 🙂 I don’t even want to THINK about all of the words on this list hanging out over at my blog. LOL. Instead of freaking out and going back through all of my posts, I will commit to doing better from here on out. Glad you linked to some of your popular posts in your sidebar. And glad Emily P. Freeman introduced me to you via her blog. 🙂

  • Janey Goude

    What a fun introduction to the world of Jeff Goins! Entertaining as they
    are, I’m not going to read all 224 comments. My apologies in advance if I
    repeat someone’s suggestions.

    1. Obvious adverbs

         Example: wake up. I set the alarm so I could wake up on time.

    Your_mom’s teacher alluded to this
    issue. You can’t wake down – or sideways. You simply “wake.” Omit “up.”

    “Sit” typically doesn’t need an adverb. A story usually provides
    enough context for the reader to discern whether the character is sitting up or
    sitting down without the author having to state such.

    2. Obvious prepositional phrases

         Example: to me. As I tended to routine chores, a thought occurred to me.

    “To me” and “for me” can often be omitted. Ask yourself,
    “Given the context, is there another possible recipient?”

    If you can’t bring yourself to end the sentence without “to me,” try a
    reconstruction: Tending to routine chores, I had a thought.

    3. Curse words

         According to my senior high school English teacher, cursing is the sign of a
    weak mind, a lazy mind, or an uneducated mind that lacks the vocabulary to
    express a depth of human emotion. Command of the English language makes cursing
    obsolete.

    4. Repetitive words

         The easiet way to recognize repetitive word use is to read aloud. If
    necessary, read out loud to yourself. Eliminating redundancy is more challenging in some
    paragraphs/articles/chapters than in others. Occasionally a decent synonym
    doesn’t exist for one word/phrase. In these instances, reworking sentence
    structure can provide an alternative that avoids repetition.

    The “lazy” way to write this section: The easiest way to recognize repetitive
    word use is to read aloud. If necessary, read out loud to yourself. It is more
    challenging to eliminate repetitive word use in some paragraphs/articles/chapters
    than in others. Occasionally one word/phrase doesn’t have a synonym. In these
    instances, you can omit repetitive words by reworking sentence structure.

    5. “It”

         “It” falls into the same category as “things”: boring and
    largely irrelevant. Replace this nonspecific word with a descriptive noun or
    rework the sentence to avoid using a noun/pronoun.

    6. “Believe”

         I lump “believe” in with three words already on your list: feel,
    seem, think. These words weaken the author’s voice.

    If you’re writing a non-fiction piece, the reader will assume you (the author)
    believe, feel, or think whatever you
    are writing – otherwise YOU would not be writing those statements.

    The same goes for fictional characters. If the character didn’t think it –
    or believe it or feel it – she wouldn’t express it.

    “It seems to me…” is in the same boat.

    Just say what you want to say, or let your character say what he wants to
    say. Declare it. Don’t couch it. If you feel like you have to soften your
    voice, you aren’t ready to use your voice.

    Authors sometimes use one of these four words when they are conveying their
    opinions or interpretations. Simply use those terms to state your case. “I
    believe the law is clear on xyz,”
    becomes “In my opinion, the law is clear on xyz.”
    “I think/feel that legislation is xyz,”
    becomes “My interpretation of that legislation is xyz.”

    Of course, there are exceptions. At times, these four words may be
    appropriate. Take caution and sprinkle them sparingly, as you would cayenne pepper.
    If you find you’ve used any of these words liberally – like my grandmother
    salted her fried chicken – you likely either have a habit that needs broken or are
    desperate to not offend your readers. Be wise with your delivery: don’t
    intentionally offend, but don’t try to hide.

    7. “Some”

         “Some” captures the range from
    “any” to “all.” If you have neither “none” nor “all,” by definition you have
    “some.” You almost never need to this word.

    “I bought some groceries.” “I completed some yardwork.” “I hemmed some
    pants.”

    “I bought organic groceries.” “I finished the back-breaking yardwork.” “I
    hemmed hand-me-down pants.”

    8. “Very” “Quite” “Pretty” et al

         Exercise caution when using adverbs
    to qualify an adjective: very good, quite good, or pretty good. Often you can choose
    a stronger adjective instead.

    Very good = Excellent. Quite good = Impressive. Pretty good = Fair.

    If you made it all the way to the end…Jeff, have you ever had relatives in Charleston, SC – specifically West of the Ashley?
    Looking forward to learning from those who share a love of writing!

    • FrancesLArnold

       Thank you for taking the time to add such a valuable contribution, Janey. Now, let me see how well I can implement all of these excellent tips from Jeff and all his commentors.

  • Ooh, excellent tips there. Thanks for that. I’m going to print it out and paste to the wall behind my computer. I did cry a little at the first one though, as my blog is entitled “Classical Guitar n Stuff” 😉

  • Steve

    Hi Jeff,

    Glad to see “big” included on the list. I’d like to offer up “great” for inclusion. It merely hints at grandeur or enormity and in the ends is just…meh.For the ultimate in Double Decker Laziness join the 4 Non Blondes in their quest to get up that “great big hill” in the oddly title song “What’s Up.” (Odd because the chorus is “What’s going on?” but perhaps they were offering some respect to Marvin Gaye)Which brings me to the ultimate question…would two lazy words in succession cancel out, in the same way that double-negatives do, and become say, an “ambitious” word?Glad to have found your blog,Steve

  • Mafamoo

    Top notch stuff. I’ve always been strongly against the overuse of “suddenly” too!

  • I found that in my formal writing (research papers ect.) I was making excessive use of the word “therefore” and that sometimes changing it to another word make for nicer writing

  • Ruth

    PTSD follows such overused words as detritus, hubris, the lake is a mirror, and many other cop-outs in modern poetry.

  • Amelia

    In my opinion, it’s all about what you’re actually writing. You’re supposed to use words to draw attention to things in your story. If you don’t want to emphasize something then use unobstrusive words like ‘that’ or ‘said.’ Be specific, yes, but don’t put the focus on the writing instead of the story in your eagerness to be flashy.

    Also, I’ve heard published authors say that they wish English teachers (because it’s always the English teachers) wouldn’t obsessively force students to stop using ‘said’ for several reasons. One, usually, you just say things. You don’t whisper or roar or hiss every single line. That would be kind of scary. Two, it yanks your readers out of the story. It’s a word you skim over, and that’s good, because the focus is the conversation.

    • F. Armsytong Green

      Right!

  • Kika

    Lovely and Brilliantly written. Great advice!
    Reminds me of an article I read about not using the phrase “What not”. For example, when you talk of a groceries you need to buy and you say: I need to buy tomatoes, cucumbers and what not. It is lazy and bad language. Either say you need to buy tomatoes and cucumbers or elaborate more from the list but what not  (just like “what have you”) are bad…

  • Scott

    Good post! I hate to think how many times I’ve fallen into laziness in my writing. 🙂 Avoiding that takes focused effort, and you’ve given some helpful specifics for improvement. I think I especially grapple with not using *said* frequently, because I majored in journalism and my mentor was big on using the word, and he had no qualms about applying it redundantly in an article. At least with respect to *said,* I guess context (news writing vs. creative writing or literature) comes into play.

  • Good tips. I’m wondering if there is a list for conversation words, like “said” or “asked.” I’m getting a little redundant!

  • My professor called them “F” words. We automatically failed any paper if he saw them.

  • I’d add “that” to the list. Probably the weakest and most overused word of all. I had a teacher in high school tell the story of a friend in college who had her thesis paper returned and the only remark was “too many ‘that’s.” The story has stuck with me ever since.

  • Great list! A word I’m guilty of overusing is “really,” as in, “It’s really hot outside,” or “I’m really ticked off.”  It’s just another lazy word I need to drop from my vocabulary.

  • Dale Carroll-coleman

    Stuff?! Are you kidding me? Does john Acuff know this?!

    Good stuff Jeff. Thanks. Lol
    ( Is there anything dumber than Lol?)

    • True Talker

       Yea! funner or dumber

  • good, bad, really, that

  • Lilly

    Oh my, I use every one of them in my blog posts. I will use this list and take them out of the very next post I write. I LOVE you site. And I think the word ‘Love’ can be overused a bit much to don’t you? So I will merely say that I truly value your wise words.

  • Jennine G.

    Weak verbs, like nice and bad. And overuse of adjectives and adverbs. Stronger nouns and verbs are the key.

  • Kilgore Jacob1

    I’m writing a novel. Often there are many characters in a scene. I originally, without being as aware of it as I should have, used words like ______ man to label someone (surly man, for instance). I just finished replacing almost all of the use of “man” except minimally in dialogue. Does anyone else do this? Any good solutions you’ve come up with? I’d replace “man” with something similar to “man @@@@@@@@@@@@@@#####################$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$” so I can see it easily as I scan through the text. 

    • Kilgore Jacob1

      Also, how would you fix the overuse of “men”? For instance, “Charles orders his men to fire.”

      Over the course of a novel these words make the writing appear very repetitive and unattractive.

      Great page! I realize I need a lot of help.

  • godsmotive

    Good stuff…about the things and all….

    • Lopcute

      L:isten everybody, I LOVE the word NICE. NICE rocks. SO GET OVER IT!

  • YippyYap

    While those words are ‘weak’ and ‘lazy’ but it depends on the context of your writing. The focus (as pointed out by Amelia) should be on the story. If using ‘things’ or ‘got’ help to illustrate a story better, why should we not use it? Of course, it’s all about moderation. It would be irritating if we see five of those words in a sentence. 

  • Dshfjhdshidhshs

    is this a boy or a man

  • I think this tips can also be applied to lyrics.
    Thank you!, God bless you! 🙂

  • I was once told that I must use more descriptive words in my poetry (as such literary format must provide vibrant words to be effective). Damn (replacing “very” haha!) helpful tips I must say 🙂

  • I was once told that I must use more descriptive words in my poetry (as such literary format must provide vibrant words to be effective). Damn (replacing “very” haha!) helpful tips I must say 🙂

    • F. Armsytong Green

      Don’t think descriptive; think image.

  • christine

    I have problems with could should would.  any suggestions? 

    • F. Armsytong Green

      They’re good words that have their place. Give an example or two, at least, of the problems.

  • Ann

    Wish i had come across this post earlier! Learnt what not to so.

  • Ann

    I mean.. what not to DO..sry

  • Lshontale

    My 11th  English teacher never let us use the word got either.  It was her pet peeve.

  • Darhosta

    This is nonsense…. any word can be powerful if used in the right context or story. I completely disagree with this list. Pompous. purple prose writing.

    • F. Armsytong Green

      Check your ego. It’s showing.

  • Claudia Dell

    Amazing post! Carry on.Will recommend this blog to
    others. I examine this post watchfully and like it so much. 
    High School Essay Topics

  • OneEyedKing

    Sometimes the weakest most simplistic words carry the strongest meaning. There are no words that shouldn’t be used, though overuse is/can be a bad thing, the important thing is that you find the right word for the purpose. Generalising words that ‘shouldn’t’ be used is a bad idea.

    • Semiliterate

      The Book of Said is a great way to ruin a good bit of writing.

  • Something.  “Something” drives me nuts.  “Something about the mountains brings me alive.”  Tell me what brings you alive, give me some smells, some sounds, some sensory input.  Give me something!  LOL

    • Semiliterate

      Would you prefer “je ne sais quois”? It’s the same concept. I know the ten-dollar words. But there are older and better ones.

  • Cindyeyler888

    wow — this is great!! Thanks

    • LloydsofLondon

      “Or at very least, think twice before whipping out a simplistic, overused word like ARE… What ARE some other weak words that make your writing less effective?”
      Here’s a strong sentence: This is a weak article.

  • Donnamcgeeart

    Super stuff – ooops, I  have just used one of the forbidden words, let us say, I found this article refreshing!

  • Kate

    I find the overuse of “actually” annoying in the extreme. Newsreaders are the worst: it is actually raining; the police actually found a dead body (is there another kind?); the car is actually in the ditch; and so forth. Gack!

    • =Tamar

      Yes, there is another kind of body. You are in a living body. Until a found body is determined to be medically dead without hope of resuscitation, it could be alive.

  • Cleo_729

    “I’m” laughing hilariously to myself. I intentionally use these words when I want folks to figure something out. I’ll teach you how to fish but refuse to feed you. A little agitation is good.

  • I am writing a personal statement and academic statement for graduate school. It is beyond annoying not being able to find a substitute for “my father”, “my mother”, “my education”,  “my coursework”. I was taught not to open a paragraph with “I” or “my”. As I try to avoid them, I am having brain farts on ways to rearrange the words to make it read more professional and not sound so self-centered.

    • =Tamar

      It’s a personal statement. It is appropriate to begin with “I” when you are in fact the subject of the sentence or paragraph.

  • Spinnerbeech

    I use ‘almost’ and ‘seemed’ too much, but at least I’m still on the first draft. I’ll keep an eye out for these things in the second!

  • Lisa64801

    “That”– I proof every sentence I write and removed needless “thats” that crept in while I was paying attention to something else.

  • Gainesarnold

    It seems that “things” is sometimes very hard to avoid. I hate usng the word, but then I sit trying to wrench an alternative from my brain (which believes it has already given an appropriate word) and often fail. Also, I had a writing teacher in high school who would reduce grades one percentage point for each “that” used.

  • Ron

    You started the WENT section by saying “Went is like are.”
    You finished the WENT section by saying”WHere ARE a few more…”
    Really dude?
    Practice or preach?

    • Ron

      Then again, I can’t even get a short comment right without a typo.
      Don’t listen to me.

  • Daniel Ward

    Hey guys I need some help with wording. I’m trying to publish a poem into my school’s literary contimplation and I can’t rid myself of the word “is”. This is how i used it “So a name does not matter if nothing IS missing.”

    • Abrowne1001

      “So a name does not matter if nothing is amiss”

  • KIGOZI

    I learn t a lot.Thank you.

  • Arcana

    I’ve found that telling people not to use particular words while they are still writing the first draft is a really stifling practice. If you are writing the first draft, the important thing is to get something out on paper that you can work with and then you can go back later and change words and sentences.
    Telling someone “no, don’t use that word” when at the moment they can’t think of any other word is just going to make them frustrated and they will end up just not writing anything. (At least, I felt this way after someone hammered this concept into my head so hard.) It makes people even more afraid to write. 

  • The lesser the advice, the more it is embraced by the cankering masses.

  • Judy

    Really. I really dislike the overuse of really.

    • F. Armsytong Green

      Really?

  • Stephen Wagener

    Dear Jeff, I count it a privilege to have found you on the web. Would you please catalogue your thoughts, blend in all the comments below and publish an eBook on the subject of weak words. My manuscript has 56k words to check, but that’s an easy task when I use the MS Word find/replace function. I now appreciate the skill of the classic authors who completed the task with paper and ink. WOW what an achievement!

    Each of us struggle with a unique set of weak words. My main offender, ‘is’

    May I add an example from an internet friend, a movie script writer. He said remove words that end with ‘ing’ Google has been helpful and covered most of your examples, however for completeness, adverbs ending in ‘ly’ and verbs ending in ‘tion’.

    The fun part has been to conduct a global find/replace and then use various colour highlights the focus the editing task. Colours make the problems stand out and stop the tendency to circulate between categories of weak words.

    Oops seem to have reached the politically correct limit for comments. If you have further interest I would like to offer encouragement and content ideas for your ebook.

    Thanks for your post.

  • TammyBoltWerthem

    Super duper helpful!!! Thanks

  • Gregg Cleland

    Love your clear, intelligent writing on this blog. I got here from a friend’s Facebook share about three reasons to travel. He’s been to something like 100 countries. And hey, just by chance I was your 10,000th Facebook Like. 🙂

  • A. T. Hinker

    silly man, do you really think big emotions only come from big words? If your character would say it, then you should write it. By the way, that first line was Hemingway to Faulkner, when Faulkner criticized Hemingway for using simple, common language.

    • F. Armsytong Green

      I didn’t know the soource of the quote. Thanks.
      Jeff should have attributed it.

  • janbb

    Thanks Jeff. I feel like I’m sitting in on a tutoring session and I’m taking notes as fast as I can! (though in fact I’ve saved most of your words to my desktop).
    One word I think is wimpy is “nice.” Obviously, dialogue is a different story, but for non-fiction, I love your list!

  • Pamela Cameron

    Jeff, I just finished a research project for one of my college courses, and it probably would have been a better paper if I could have checked your Blog out first. I do believe my writing style will improve by checking in every few days to see what new, and exciting information you are passing on to those who are willing to learn. I am making my first attempt at writing my life story, of overcoming tragedy, cancer and living without short-term memory.

    Thank you for making yourself available. Pam C.

  • “That” is a killer for me… I tend to overuse that one! haha

  • Carmen Peone

    I am now going to have to go through my latest manuscript and track these words. How many will I find? Eek. I am now eager to take a gander! Thank you, Jeff.

  • LDKP Writing

    I’m going to read through a few of my blog posts now and see just how many times I’ve opted for the lazy route! Here we go… or should I say, Here we venture into the unknown world of lazy-word-choice-syndrome!

  • A. G.

    Said!! There are so many better words.
    “I don’t like it!!” he said.
    “I don’t like it!!” he squealed.
    Although neither of these have that much punch to them, which one has more?

    • F. Armsytong Green

      Don’t worry about “said.” It’s the simplest dialogue tag and the eye glosses over it. On the other hand if you write well enough, you don’t need many tags at all. Telling the reader how to read a word is a sin. Eudora Welty doesn’t spell the word ugleeee; she knows “ugly” will suffice to any sensitive reader how it should be pronounced. Then, too, writers find many ways to avoid silly tags like “squealed” and “ejaculated.”

      • Lynne R McAnulty-Street

        Ever looked at the Scribophile site?
        Hilarious how the systems presents, in a reply to a comment in a discussion, which includes a quotation from the original comment ::
        Fred opined …
        Fred sybilated …
        Fred ejaculated…
        Fred declared…
        Fred declaimed …

        Absolute crack-up!
        You would go Nuts!

    • Wasserbuffel

      Quite the contrary! You should be using said as a dialogue tag pretty much each time your characters speak. If your readers can’t tell how your characters would be speaking in a given situation that is a failing on your part as a writer. I abhor reading dialogue wherein the characters are constantly mumbling, squealing, whispering, growling, or gurgling.

      In your above example the exclamation point is all you need to assign “punch” to the dialogue. Hence the name “exclamation point”, also you should only use one.

      • F. Armsytong Green

        Excellent!

  • Linda

    Putting aside all the manmade rules; the “stuff” that so
    often binds my brains and makes me feel as though simple everyday words plugged into an original work is forbidden and just downright ordinary.

    It seems that if we are independent thinkers who have no
    fear of the common and mundane overshadowing our creative work, then using big
    impressive adjectives or small overused words like “never” should not be so
    very important. You’ve got to be kidding me…think about it…Is it really that important to never use these words? If you are a decent writer you can use them or not…just be creative period. I enjoyed reading this article, but it’s as though you were writing to school children. I’m no writer, but I just used about all of the above
    “no-no” words in my response here.

  • F. Armsytong Green

    Avoid all abstract words.

    “Put” is another word to avoid; say how something was put down.

  • F. Armsytong Green

    “Literally” is a word that almost never is needed. Ask yourself “As opposed to figuratively?” A writer touted as a good writer wrote “The wave literally pushed the boat aside.”

  • Denise

    “pretty”, “a lot” are other words to avoid

  • Leah

    Good advice in general, but sometimes I prefer the clean simplicity of words such as was/is/am/are. They are like white space on a masterpiece that would otherwise be cluttered with color.

  • Jeff

    The point is to streamline your message. If your sentence can be written in seven words instead of ten – Write it in seven. A writer edits. A writer rewrites. Use these lazy words in your first draft but then edit or change them. There may be times when a lazy word can be used with great effect. “You were there!” by Walter Cronkite comes to mind. Also, repetition of a word or phrase may forceful as in the phrase “I have a dream!” in Martin Luther King’s speech.
    Note: I have not edited this comment. -Jeff

  • Marie Zanne

    Also, the word “suddenly”–it’s completely overused.

  • Calissa

    All of your examples are for stories in first person. I can completely understand that some words are often used too much. But when you write in third person, you are bound to use “was/is/are” a lot. A good rule of thumb is to not use a word like “suddenly” (as Marie Zanne pointed out) more than twice in the course of a long chapter, but that does not mean you should use it in any and every chapter. Key point of the matter is: use a thesaurus when writing and editing.

    • F. Armsytong Green

      A thesaurus is an evil instrument. People use it mostly to find a fancy word for a simple one.
      As for “All of your examples are for stories in first person,” and its difference from “third person” [read, omniscient narrator), you’ve not thought the matter out well.

  • Awdur Ffuglen

    All of those words appear frequently in the nobel prize winning “Old Man and the Sea.” And those words are fairly common in fiction in general.

    However, these fairly common words only appear only once in “Old Man at the Sea.”

    worst

    world

    word

    within

    wants

    wandering

    walk

    wait

    voices

    voice

    visible

    various

    usual

    using

    unbelievably

    trace

    torn

    talked

    strangely

    starting

    start

    staring

    standing

    stand

    spoken

    somewhere

    somewhat

    slippery

    slightly

    slight

    single

    silent

    shrugged

    shot

    shoes

    several

    setting

    served

    serve

    sense

    self

    seize

    seems

    seeing

    search

    saddest

    rushed

    runs

    ruin

    round

    riding

    returned

    result

    replaces

    removed

    remembers

    reflected

    recognize

    realized

    proved

    proud

    properly

    promptly

    powerful

    power

    ought

    otherwise

    original

    ordinary

    odds

    number

    none

    nodded

    news

    nearest

    naturally

    name

    missed

    mind

    meet

    meaning

    main

    lying

    lonely

    learning

    known

    keeping

    involved

    increasing

    hurry

    heat

    ground

    glad

    front

    forth

    formed

    forget

    fond

    following

    folding

    flew

    fire

    finish

    fastest

    faster

    fascinated

    fallen

    fair

    fail

    faded

    explained

    explain

    expect

    exhausted

    excited

    entered

    dreams

    doubted

    distant

    definitely

    continue

    complete

    companion

    climbed

    chosen

    chairs

    certainly

    certain

    cautiously

    caution

    call

    burst

    burning

    burn

    building

    bottom

    block

    blew

    believed

    becomes

    barely

    ball

    backwards

    awake

    automatically

    apart

    annulled

    agreed

    ago

    actually

    accept

    absolutely

    absolute

  • Awdur Ffuglen

    It does really depend on what style you’re using. If any writing is to have inventive melodies, that which the reader didn’t already know, it is inevitable that words will be used that seem not to function. To strip away all abstraction is to disrupt the metre. While 50% of writing is efficient presentation of information, the other 50% is giving the reader time to catch up. Even Ezra Pound’s clipped and stripped “Ulysses” (which he edited) breaks every rule in the book. Charles Bukowski wrote incredibly engaging stories using ‘weak’ words excessively. If one says “Jennifer walked judiciously up the stairs.” the reader doesn’t care. Everyone knows stairs have to be walked up. The fact that she did so judiciously, well that hopefully plays into the story, but adverbs indicate a failure by the narrator. Like, “Oh, and just so you know, she did it in a judicious way.” Or you could just say, “Jennifer went up the goddamned stairs.” The reader can paint the rest of the picture themselves. I see so many (bestselling) novels with ridiculous constructions: Consider this from Sylvia Day

    “The doors to the seraglio slid open when he approached. He entered to a chorus of eager greetings and sighs at his half-dressed state. As his concubines rushed toward him, he kept them at bay by holding up the hand not currently caressing Katie’s buttocks. He turned to the elderly woman prostrated just to the right of him.”

    Now, nobody buys this stuff to see something new. They buy it because it’s filled with concubines, half-dressed men, buttocks and prostrated elderly women.

    Very few popular writers manage to retain the melody with the words making sense.

    • F. Armsytong Green

      Great post. However, I’m confused by “To strip away all abstraction is to disrupt the metre.” Abstraction is the death of fiction, which must always be concrete. Look at the word “abstraction”: see the word “action” in it? An action can never be abstract.
      One book on writing starts out with “Good writing is specific.” QED