Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#1
I am of the opinion (not sure if it's a popular one or not) that certain words and phrases shouldn't be used by authors ever, or at least be avoided as much as possible. Do you feel the same?

Here are two lists I've made, if you feel like you have anything to add to that list, comment below and I might add it in :D

Edit: Some people have pointed out that a lot of these phrases/words while they should be avoided in prose do sometimes make sense in dialogue. I do actually agree with this. At least to an extent. The important part is that an author should not do so on impulse but after deliberate planning, e.g. learn the rule first, then decide if/when you're gonna break it and when you're gonna stick to it. There are no absolutes for creatives, every rule is just a guideline. But guidelines exist for a reason.

Phrases And Words I Think Authors Should Never Use
  • Oh no you don't/didn't: It is an overused phrase that adds nothing of value except cringe to people who have heard it used too often.
  • But alas: Whether or not 'but alas' is correct or incorrect is irrelevant, the but is superfluous, just use 'alas'.
  • Basically/Essentially/Technically/Effectively...: Overused words that add no value or meaning to a sentence. Basically is particularly bad.
  • Actually/Totally/Honestly/Literally/Really/Quite: More meaningless words.
  • Added bonus: A bonus is an extra feature, so added is redundant.
  • Add an additional: To add is to provide another of something. Additional is extraneous.
  • Free gift: A gift is by definition free (though cynics will dispute that definition), so free is extraneous.
  • [Number] a.m. in the morning/p.m. in the evening: The abbreviations a.m. and p.m. already identify the time of day, so omit in the morning or in the evening; or omit a.m. or p.m. instead.
  • Plan ahead: To plan is to prepare for the future. Ahead is extraneous.
  • Possibly might: Might indicates probability, so omit the redundant qualifier possibly.
  • Suddenly exploded: An explosion is an immediate event. It cannot be any more sudden than it is.
  • Unexpected surprise: No surprise is expected, so the modifier is extraneous.
  • Unintended mistake: A mistake is an inadvertently erroneous action. The lack of intention is implicit.
  • And also: Use either And or Also, not both.
  • Due to the fact that: Use 'Due to' or 'Because' instead.
  • He/She: I don't mean individually He or She, I mean specifically "He/She" used to refer to a character of unknown gender. Use 'They' when there is doubt.
  • Equally as: It's not equally as important, it's equally important, or as important as.
  • Etc.: Lazy writing, big no-no.
  • Irregardless: Wtf does this even mean? What's wrong with just 'regardless'?
  • Try and: The correct form is "try to".
  • Should/Would/Could of: This isn't really a phrase used but a common error made by authors that are not native english speakers, the correct form is 'should have' or if you want "should've".
Phrases And Words I Think Authors Should Avoid Using
  • Could care less: According to encyclopedias it's not wrong, but for some people it's absolutely infuriating because it sounds wrong.
  • Few in number: Few refers to a small number; do not qualify few with the modifier in number.
  • Final outcome: An outcome is a result and is therefore intrinsically final.
  • First began, new beginning: A beginning is when something first occurs, so first and new are superfluous terms in these cases.
  • Foreign imports: Imports are products that originate in another country, so their foreign nature is implicit and the word foreign is redundant.
  • Major breakthrough: A breakthrough is a significant progress in an effort. Though major is not directly redundant, the notable nature of the event is implicit.
  • Since the time when: Since indicates a time in the past; the time when is superfluous.
  • Still remains: Something that remains is still in place. Still is redundant.
  • Each and every: Should just stick to one of those words instead of using both of them, usually.
  • Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly...: Use first, second, third instead. makes you look smarter.
  • Interesting: You don't get to tell your readers what's interesting and what's not. The word is entirely meaningless. And for the love of god, never ever use 'interestingly'. Ever. Speaking of which...
  • Never ever: The ever is superfluous; hell, it's already there, look: Never; doesn't get more superfluous than this...
  • Just: If you can get away with not using this word, you should probably avoid it.
  • Kind of/Sort of: There are better words you can use instead.
  • Plus: Use 'and' or 'also' instead.
  • Supper: It's not that the word itself is inherently bad, it's that everytime I've seen it used in a webnovel it has been used wrongly!
-


Although some of these don't bother me as much, some of them really trigger me, also a little tic I've noticed from some authors is that whenever they write almost, they'll do a repetition of it like:

Quote:It almost worked.

Almost.

peojudging
I understood it the first time around man. Don't do this. Why are you doing this? Just stop.

How about you? Got any words or phrases you think authors could do with using less often? or a bone to pick with one of the ones I pointed out?

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#2
One thing to point out is that a lot of the phrases that you tagged as having 'extraneous words' e.g. 'added bonus', 'plan ahead', are commonly used phrases in english that may sound stilited if you drop the extraneous word.

Additionally, a lot of this list should probably not be used in the prose, but are almost necessary to use in dialogue if you want to convey a sense of casual conversation. So there's a little nuance to it.

Though there are a lot of good picks here too. I tend to overuse 'just' and 'kind of/sort of' and it's a crutch for my writing.

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#4
I don't think any of these word or phrases should be avoided. A lot of these add a bit of flavor, especially to dialogue and add a bit more personality to text. That's not to say there aren't better or more creative ways to go about it, but I see no problem with authors using a lot of the words and phrases you've listed.

As far a repeated words, I think it's to create emphasis. To add more flavor and personality to the tone of the text.

I think.

See what I did there? By repeating some words you can indicate that a character or narrator is doubting themselves. I'm not doubting what I wrote, but just took that opportunity to use an example. You can use repeating words in the right way to help the reader to connect to the narrator or a character.

As far as redundant words, humans don't all speak the same way they would write out words. If authors wrote dialogue as clean cut as they did narration, most of the time the dialogue would sound unnatural and robotic. Not everyone shares the same range of word usage, and in some cases redundant word usage can be used to cleverly indicate accent or local cultures.

The problem isn't with any specific word usage, but words that the author repeats too much within a small section of words. The human brain can spot patterns pretty fast, so a reader will noticed if "however" is used multiple times within three paragraphs of each other. Unlike the repeated use of "almost" or "I think", this sort of repeating word usage is usually unintentional by the writer and isn't meant to catch the reader's attention the same way, so it will be "disruptive" instead of "eye catching".

In the end, it's all about context. How and why an author is using words when and where is more important, rather then an author just avoiding words out right.

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#5
As the previous posts said, a lot of those phrases are conventional or colloquial phrases (eg. 'plan ahead'), so their use is often acceptable. In some cases, especially with a character narrating the story or with a strong POV character, these phrases might actually be advisable. Things like 'etc.' are common, so there's even less issue there. Obviously, the overuse of 'etc.' could be grating, but so could ommitting it when it is called for.

Things like 'new beginning' are also phrases with a connotation quite different from just 'beginning,' and sometimes akin to 'turning over a new leaf,' etc. A few art-works make good use of 'still remains' and variants, because the connotations of 'still' - in terms of resilience, or past difficulty - aren't always conjured by just saying 'remains.'

In general, the workings of English phrases aren't always of the analytic kind that the OP suggests. Just as people can turn over a 'new leaf' without any leaf being involved, likewise reducing phrases to redundant surface meaning can sometimes overlook the complexities of actual English use.

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#7

Cestarian Wrote:
  • Actually/Totally/Honestly/Literally/Really/Quite: More meaningless words.

I think you're being unfair to those words when you lump them all together as "meaningless," and therefore never serving any valid purpose in modern writing. 

For instance: I sometimes use the word "literally" when I feel the need to assure my readers that I am not using a certain turn of phrase in a metaphorical fashion.

In a discussion on a comic book forum, I once said something along these lines: "Captain America literally spent decades on ice after World War II, and that's why he still looks so young." I used "literally" to make it clear that this was not just a figure of speech. In both the comic books and the movies, Captain America's unconscious body was surrounded by ice, and thus was kept perfectly preserved, until the day finally came when he was located and defrosted, and woke up, good as new, without having aged a day during his long period of suspended animation. 

Such phrases as "on ice," "in cold storage," "frozen," etc., are often used figuratively, so I felt the need to emphasize the point that I really was talking about sub-zero temperatures having played an important role.

On a similar note, I think "honestly" has its uses. I admit that when people make declarative statements of fact, they almost never say: "Dishonestly, I assure you I never stole any money from the bank." (That would amount to a confession that they did!) So it can seem redundant if a fictional character tells someone: "Honestly, I never stole any money from the bank." It is presumed that the speaker wants to be given full credit for speaking "honestly," even if that word is not being used in the character's dialogue.

But there can be times when it is appropriate to have someone say (perhaps of someone else's behavior) that something was done "honestly." For instance, a police detective might say to a prosecutor: "Brown, Jones, Garcia, and Delmonico all swear they never removed any money from the bank vault after it was opened. Garcia is speaking honestly; the others aren't. Yes, we can prove that in court!"

Similar considerations apply to the other words in the snippet I quoted. There are bound to be times when one of those words is the perfect word to use in a certain context. Particularly in spoken dialogue! For instance, a certain character's personality might be developed by having him often say something was "quite" this, and something else was "not quite" that. Other characters in the story might express the same ideas in different words, but the repeated use of "quite" could help give the first character a distinctive voice.

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#8

O_Weaver Wrote: As far a repeated words, I think it's to create emphasis. To add more flavor and personality to the tone of the text.

I think.

See what I did there?

Yes I do and I think it looks stupid.


Avitue Wrote: I use many of those exclusively in dialogue. The same way we would often inflict accents and/or slang in dialogues, since it adds hints of personality to dialogues.

I do agree it has less use in the prose part of the story itself though.

I do actually agree that you can use some of these things in dialogue but should avoid using them in prose, however, at this point you're not making an uninformed mistake, you're making an informed decision about it. (e.g. you know you shouldn't use it normally, but you feel it fits the character, breaking the rules on purpose rather than on accident)

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#9

Avitue Wrote: I use many of those exclusively in dialogue. The same way we would often inflict accents and/or slang in dialogues, since it adds hints of personality to dialogues. 

I do agree it has less use in the prose part of the story itself though.
You are exactly right. While most of these phrases are blatantly wrong ('a.m. in the morning,' 'irregardless,' 'etc..' 'try and,') many of the others are the kinds of things that people say all the time. As such, when a character is speaking within quotation marks, using a colloquial phrase like one of these every once in a while makes the speech sound more natural.


These are not the kinds of things however, an author should write into the narrative. Colloquialisms are patterns of speech. They are not part of the storytelling.

Also, in the example given at the end, saying IT WORKED ALMOST is bad English in its own right, regardless of whether the word ALMOST is repeated later. If the adverb ALMOST is meant to modify a verb, it must come before it.

HE ALMOST RAN.
THEY ALMOST FELL.
IT ALMOST WORKED.

When ALMOST comes after the verb it implies a comparision.

HE RAN ALMOST AS FAST AS SHE DID.
THEY FELL ALMOST TO THE BOTTOM.
IT WORKED ALMOST AS WELL AS BEFORE.

That said, the point being made is valid. A good author tries to never reapeat any word right after another, no matter what the word might be.

Two more nevers should be added to the list. SHOULD OF, WOULD OF and COULD OF are actually supposed to be SHOULD HAVE, WOULD HAVE and COULD HAVE. The other never is the word GO followed by a verb. GO EAT, GO PLAY, GO BUY, GO GET are all wrong. The correct phrases are GO AND EAT or GO TO EAT, and so on. 

To clarify, examine the past tense of these phrases. The past tense of GO is WENT, and we do not say things like I WENT EAT or I WENT PLAY.

I WENT TO EAT AT A DELI.
I GO TO EAT AT A DELI.

THEY WENT AND PLAYED AT A PARK.
THEY GO AND PLAY AT A PARK.

Phrases that should be added to the SHOULD NOT USE List are ONCE AGAIN and OFF OF.

The correct phrases here are ONCE MORE or YET AGAIN for the first one, and simply the word OFF by itself for the second. 

😸

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#14

Cestarian Wrote:
O_Weaver Wrote: As far a repeated words, I think it's to create emphasis. To add more flavor and personality to the tone of the text.

I think.

See what I did there?

Yes I do and I think it looks stupid.


That's fair if you think it looks stupid, but that doesn't mean it looks stupid to other people or that most readers even care about repeating words. They just want an enjoyable and entertaining reading experience. Repetition, maybe not in the form you dislike, but pretty dang close to it has been used in traditionally published works for decades (even in some very famous works). So I'm still of the opinion that any sort of repetition is fine, as long as it's done right and has a purpose.

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#15
Well I mean, some of this just depends on the type of story someone is writing.  For instance, if someone were to be writing in third person omniscient or objective, then words like this used in dialogue is fine, but prose will make it seem immaturely published.

But for third person limited and first person works, words like this being used in the prose can give some spice to the narration since in those POV's the author is looking into the characters mind.  I'd say just use whichever is good for the story at hand. Heck, even in some third person omniscient works these words can work in narration if the POV is on a single character for the moment.

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#16
This is the worst advice I have ever seen.

It is literally the worst technical advice I have ever seen.

Never, ever, follow advice like this.

For every single "don't do this" I can think of at least two examples when they should be used.

Do not limit yourself by following advice like this, it would be like when that IED suddenly exploded even though there was no triggering mechanism attached to it. It wasn't something that we expected to happen due to the fact it had been disarmed irregardless of the fact you should always treat an IED like it's ready to explode.

Don't follow this advice.

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#17

Ralts Wrote: This is the worst advice I have ever seen.

It is literally the worst technical advice I have ever seen.

Never, ever, follow advice like this.

For every single "don't do this" I can think of at least two examples when they should be used.

Do not limit yourself by following advice like this, it would be like when that IED suddenly exploded even though there was no triggering mechanism attached to it. It wasn't something that we expected to happen due to the fact it had been disarmed irregardless of the fact you should always treat an IED like it's ready to explode.

Don't follow this advice.
"I just want left alone!"


Amirite, bud? ;)

But yeah, i feel many of the "repetitive" words has their place, *especially* in dialogue, and when you really want to emphasize things in the prose itself.

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#18

Avitue Wrote:
Ralts Wrote: This is the worst advice I have ever seen.

It is literally the worst technical advice I have ever seen.

Never, ever, follow advice like this.

For every single "don't do this" I can think of at least two examples when they should be used.

Do not limit yourself by following advice like this, it would be like when that IED suddenly exploded even though there was no triggering mechanism attached to it. It wasn't something that we expected to happen due to the fact it had been disarmed irregardless of the fact you should always treat an IED like it's ready to explode.

Don't follow this advice.
"I just want left alone!"


Amirite, bud? ;)

But yeah, i feel many of the "repetitive" words has their place, *especially* in dialogue, and when you really want to emphasize things in the prose itself.
Actually, your example fits.


It's a verbal tic of the character. Several characters have different verbal tics. If I followed the "rules" than everyone would talk the same. Having been to more than a few places in America and around the world, people don't talk the same.

Of course, I will admit: As an author I have a few tics myself.

But still, repetitive words came about due to people using them that way and out of need.

Re: Words and Phrases that authors should avoid.

#20

eric_river Wrote:
i expected not to agree with a single word
but this is a good a list as i have ever heard
although stylistic choices are legitimate at times
'could care less' instead of 'couldn't' is the worst of crimes
Drakanflip


Your new favorite song:

https://youtu.be/cNmhmk53nVw

Joking aside though, 'could care less' is actually not a misspelling. it's a case of 'but alas'; criminally infuriating but according to encyclopedias not actually incorrect.

Added it to the list. Also added some of the suggestions from ArDeeBurger.

Vivian Wrote: If you write first person and you follow this advice, then you're going to be on track to write a really bad first person story.

Anyone that is writing first person. Do not follow this advice. It will ruin your narrative voice.

Also really? That repetition for almost is intentional  and can often be good repetition if it's done well.

Name an actually good first person story, what is the absolute best first person story you've read? 

I don't know about you, but all the best stories I've read were written in third person. It's not that it's impossible to write a good first person story, I've read a few pretty decent ones, it's just that the style has a history of being used almost exclusively by amateur/beginner writers.

Also, again, I don't know about you, but the best first person perspective stories I read were the ones that had the least amount of internal monologuing, which means they would be the ones that would have the least amount of words from that list. So I think you're wrong. I think avoiding this list of words and phrases is good for first person perspective writing too.

Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, as a creative every rule should be thought of as more of a guideline, but you gotta know the rule first if you wanna break it the correct way (e.g. intentionally)

That repetition for almost is obviously intentional, but there are authors that make a habit of making this EXACT repitition over.... and over... and over... and it only took one such story for me to grow absolutely disgusted by it, also as someone else posted before, there's actually a better way of doing this.