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"Very" and Other Useless Words to Erase Forever

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  • "Very" and Other Useless Words to Erase Forever

    "And then the meeting was suddenly interrupted by a very loud noise that startled the board members." If that sentence isn't a train wreck to you, it's perhaps time to analyze your own writing. As that sentence should hopefully point out, the best writing out there isn't determined by what happens, but rather by word choice. Nothing takes readers out of the moment like one poorly worded sentence. To help your writing, we compiled a brief list of words to avoid along with our reasonings and a few suggestions to help you get around some messy phrasing. Oh, and if you were wondering, a decent way to rephrase the starting sentence would be "A deafening noise crashed through the otherwise quiet meeting, agitating the typically lethargic board members."

    1. "Very" or "Really"

    Mark Twain said it best: "Substitute 'damn every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be'. The words "very" or "really" (or truthfully any intensifier) are just another way of increasing the value of a word without adding anything descriptive. You're also using two words when one would suffice, and unless you're getting paid by the word, it's best to avoid. Instead of saying "very loud" like in the first sentence of this article, use "deafening," "thunderous," or "piercing." Not only do they roughly mean the same as "very loud" but they are much more descriptive.

    2. Suddenly

    "Sudden" or "Suddenly" is another word practically useless. Anton Chekhov once said "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." In that quote, the word "suddenly" would be telling the reader the moon is shining. It's telling the reader what to feel instead of forcing them to feel it. Let the sentence or the action itself jar the reader into feeling the suddenness of the action. "Suddenly" ironically slows down the action and delays the actual suddenness of the sentence. There's no actual replacement for the word, either. Just don't use it. Let the silence speak for itself to convey your message.

    3. "Amazing" or "Awesome"

    Both of these words are meant to convey very specific feelings. "Amazing" means "causing great wonder or surprise" while "awesome" means "extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear." There are two great reasons to not use these words. First, it falls into "telling and not showing," that is: telling the reader how they should feel or how the character feels instead of actually describing it in a way in order to convey that emotion.
    The second reason to avoid these words is simple: they are over used. Everything, these days, is either awesome or amazing. Seriously, ask yourself the last time you've used either of those words to describe something innocuous like a hamburger or a delightful chocolate dessert. To quote Louis CK, "As humans, we waste the [expletive] out of our words. It's sad. We use words like 'awesome' and 'wonderful' like they're candy. It was awesome? Really? It inspired you to awe? It was wonderful? Are you serious? It was full of word. You use the word 'amazing' to describe a [expletive] sandwich at Wendy's. What's going to happen on your wedding day, or when your first child is born? How will you describe it? You already wasted 'amazing' on a [expletive] sandwich."
    If you intend to use these words, it's worth asking if that you're describing really is 'amazing' or 'awesome' in its true sense. If it is, find a way of letting the audience feel that. If you aren't using the true sense of the words, there are alternatives like "neat," "delicious," "outstanding," or other words that will fit better without entering into the realm of cliche hyperbole.

    4. That

    "That" is a word that can be handy and isn't always useless, however it's also commonly a crutch without a purpose. Whenever you're about to use the word, ask yourself if there is a better way to avoid it. Consider this sentence: "I saw the grail that shined brightly." The sentence is weak, right? Change the sentence entirely by avoiding the pitfall of the word "that" by rewriting it to "I saw the brightly shining grail." The sentence sounds much cleaner now, right? Also consider "I think that all puppies are adorable." Just remove the word from the sentence to make it cleaner once more: "I think all puppies are adorable." Any time you're about to use the word, ask yourself it there's a cleaner way of phrasing your sentence, or if the sentence makes sense without it. If it does, just ditch the word entirely.

    5. Started

    "He started running." "She started dancing." "The dog started jumping." All of these sentences are passive and slow. "Started" serves to slow down the sentence and little more. Instead, remove the word from your vocabulary. "He ran." "She danced." "The dog jumped." Any action performed is one started. If you want to signal that the action is a continuing one, add descriptors after. "He ran tirelessly past the starting line." "She danced all night long." "The dog jumped repeatedly." Each sentence provides a better scope of time than using the word "started".
    That's not to say "started" is a word to avoid without exception, but it's pretty close. The car didn't "start", it "roared to life," for example. One time you can use the word "start", though, is when there's something that has a definite starting time. "I started writing in the 8th grade," for example. These opportunities occur rarely, however, and it's much better to try to avoid the word as best you can. There are much stronger ways to communicate your point.

  • #2
    My English/Lit. teacher senior year had stricken the word 'beautiful' from our vocabulary as well. He said he never wanted to see that word, he wanted our description of the subject's beauty.

    He was a pretty good teacher. If we wanted to use a word on his list, we had to write an essay on why that word had to be used. lol
    Another tip was to avoid using contractions by simply writing out the words; instead of that's, use that is. I don't know, it sounds better does it not? :P


    • #3
      my English 102 teacher had a similar list of taboo words. I've tried to abide by them in the parts of my book that I've written so far, but it's hard since we tend to write how we talk


      • #4
        My English teacher was on us not to use modifiers with the word "unique" (like very unique, pretty unique, really unique, etc.). Something is either unique or it is not. I guess it would be ok to say almost unique if there where one or two others like it some where.


        • #5
          This makes me feel like I need to go back to school.


          • #6
            Wow! Why not have a daily ENGLISH class? This was great THANKS! The kurlman


            • #7
              I respectfully disagree with the whole idea of "taboo words." Sure, I think they're important fundamental "rules" that everyone should learn before they start trying to pull something like Tender Buttons. Like, first avoiding textbook words is good, like first learning how to paint a portrait of a bowl of fruit is good. But after so much citrus, it can get a little boring, albeit scurvy gets successfully eradicated.

              I guess I just don't understand the fear associated with certain words. I think it's more fearless for a writer to use words like "very" and "good" in a sentence when they're appropriately applicable than for a writer to pick the longest word from because they think it sounds fancier and because their 4th grade English teacher probably would have read it out loud to the class.


              • Jiynx Diablo
                Jiynx Diablo commented
                Editing a comment
                That's smart, and I agree.

              • Sumyanna
                Sumyanna commented
                Editing a comment
                I do have to say I whole heartedly agree. In my book there are no taboo words. I understand the attempt to build better vocabularies in school when people are still learning, fine. However, the art of writing is all in how you say the words, not necessarily the words you use.

            • #8
              I think it's good advice as far as english professors go. and fyi I am no example to follow by any means! please. but I do know that what the reader will respond to is heart and truth. to write the world through your own magical point of view is the purest purpose of poetry words are secondary. the greater rule to follow in my book is to make sure the words obey your feeling.


              • #9
                Thanks for sharing this helpful post