I would like to begin by saying that no word is completely unnecessary. In the right circumstances, there are perfectly fine places for all of these words. When I say these words are “unnecessary,” I mean that some (or most) of the time they’re overused and don’t always add to the sentences they’re found in. For each of these words, I’ll give an example of where they’re used unnecessarily, how to rephrase that example, and then a generic description of when it would be a good place to use them.
These are not rules or laws stating that you can never use these words in fiction or outside the “good” examples. If you do use them in your writing, it does not make you a bad writer. I’m just making this list to help you keep an eye out for them and make you aware of the potential issues they can cause.
William Allen White once said, “Never use the word, ‘very.’ It is the weakest word in the English language; doesn’t mean anything.” With a language as complex as English, there are many variations of words that mean slightly different things. Utilizing them in the right context can make all the difference. Taking out ‘very’ and rephrasing the sentence will not only make your writing stronger, it can also help with flow.
Example of Unnecessary Usage: John walked outside and realized it was very hot.
Revised Example: John walked outside and the heat hit him like a wall.
Possible Good Usage: ‘Very’ can sometimes be used to emphasize as a form of repetition, or in a comedic setting. Another place where ‘very’ is perfectly fine is in speech. People don’t speak with perfect grammar, and we absolutely use ‘very’ on occasion.
This word runs in the same vein as ‘very.’ This word is supposed to be used to emphasize something, but oftentimes it ends up detracting from it. Learn which are good times to use it so that when you do include it, it doesn’t loose it’s meaning
Example of Unnecessary Usage: Joseph was really tall.
Revised Example: Joseph towered above the rest of the students.
Possible Good Usage: Again, dialogue is a time when ‘really’ can be used, but outside of that, you have to be careful. It gets repetitive and it’s just a weak word.
This is probably one of the most popular unnecessary words (in that many people believe it is unnecessary, not that many people use it). As English writers and speakers, we have so many better options to use than said that can explain so much about the way the words are being spoken. ‘Said’ is bland and states the action rather than the description.
Example of Unnecessary Usage: “Goal!” the coach said.
Revised Example: “Goal!” the coach screamed.
Possible Good Usage: There are instances were using said as a bland word can actually work to a writer’s advantage. I’ve seen it done where, in a situation that would usually invoke a high emotion, a character would just ‘say’ something. This lack of emotion when the reader knows there should be something can be very unsettling and can be used to create an overall sense of tension.
I have a really bad habit of this, but over-using ‘that’ while writing is a really big problem. Although it’s mostly used as a way to smooth tone and write naturally, using it too often can actually have the opposite effect and make the writing more choppy.
Example of Unnecessary Usage: I loved the book that you recommended!
Revised Example: I loved the book you recommended!
Possible Good Example: Like I mentioned before, ‘that’ can be used to fix any pacing/tone problems in your writing. You just have to make sure you avoid repetition.
Now, some of you might be scratching your head at this one, but let me explain. There are many times in our writing where we naturally include tags at the end of sentences, like directions. Sometimes they’re necessary to explain where the character is looking or moving, but other times they don’t add anything to the action. Oftentimes, the direction of the action is self-explanatory (see the examples below).
Example of Unnecessary Usage: Mary stood up.
Revised Example: Mary stood.
Possible Good Example: As I mentioned, there are times when using directions in your writing is perfectly acceptable. You just want to make sure that the moments you are including them are useful for describing your character’s actions.
Again, these are not steadfast rules that all authors need to follow. This list was just to get you thinking about what words are necessary for your writing, and which you can cut to make your work even stronger.
Are there any words you feel I left out of the list? Leave them in the comments!
Just keep writing, just keep writing . . .