50 Plain-Language Substitutions for Wordy Phrases

By Mark Nichol

The following phrases need not be summarily replaced by more concise alternatives, but consider making the switch, especially when you find yourself using various wordy phrases frequently in the same text.

1. a number of: some, many
2. afford an opportunity: allow, let
3. an appreciable number of: many
4. as a means of: to
5. as prescribed by: in, under
6. at the present time: now
7. by means of: by, with
8. comply with: follow
9. due to the fact that: because, due to, since
10. during the period of: during
11. for a period of: for
12. has a requirement for: needs, requires
13. have an adverse effect on: hurt, set back
14. in a timely manner: on time, promptly
15. in accordance with: by, following, per, under
16. in addition: also, besides, too
17. in an effort to: to
18. in close proximity: near
19. in lieu of: instead of
20. in order for: for
21. in order that: so
22. in order to: to
23. in regard to: about, concerning, on
24. in relation to: about, to, with
25. in the amount of: amounting to, for
26. in the event of: if
27. in the near future: shortly, soon
28. in the process of: (omit without replacement)
29. in view of: because, since
30. is applicable to: applies to
31. is authorized to: can, may
32. is in consonance with: agrees with follows
33. is responsible for: handles
34. it is essential that [one]: [one] must
35. it is incumbent upon [one] to: [one] should, [one] must
36. it is requested that you: please
37. pertaining to: about, of, on
38. provide(s) guidance for/to: guides
39. relative to: about, on
40. set forth in: in
41. similar to: like
42. successfully accomplish/complete: accomplish/complete
43. take action to: (omit without replacement)
44. the month (or year) of: (omit without replacement)
45. the use of: (omit without replacement)
46. time period: period, time
47. under the provisions of: under
48. until such time as: until
49. with reference to: about
50. with the exception of: except

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8 Responses to “50 Plain-Language Substitutions for Wordy Phrases”

  • Jen

    This post should be called “How to Defend Yourself in The People’s Court.” Good stuff, thank you.

  • Kelley Hicken

    If corporations required employees to memorize this handy list, email wouldn’t be such a burden. I love it. Thank you!

  • Dale A. Wood

    That is a wonderful list of ways to eliminate silly wordiness!

    I also noticed that in many cases what has been erased has been a useless prepositional phrase. The striking and salient facts about this is as follows:
    1. Many of the same people who parrot out unnecessary prepositional phrases,
    2. Are the same people who do act like they have never heard of a preposition or a prepositional phrase, when they really need one!!

    For example, “George C. Marshall, a General of the Army of the United States during World War II, went on to serve President Truman as the Secretary of State (1947-48) and the Secretary of Defense (1950-51).”

    Notes: A General of the Army is a five-star general. This is at the same level as a Fleet Admiral in the U.S. Navy.
    “Secretary of Defense” is the official name of the position, and “Defense Secretary” is strictly slang.
    Other official names of Cabinet positions include the:
    Secretary of the Treasury, which is equivalent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom.
    Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Transportation, and the Attorney General, who is in charge of the Department of Justice.

    At one time, the United States had a huge and underpopulated middle of the country that consisted mostly of territories, and the Department of the Interior was created with jurisdiction over that. There are some other countries that have have had such a region, but they have a Department of the Interior, anyway. In those countries, the Department of the Interior is a ‘catch-all” organization that covers the national police force, border security, the collection of customs duties, national parks, and whatever else the national government delegates to it.

    Generals Marshall and Eisenhower were both Generals of the Army who had similar life dates, but offset by ten years. Marshall (1880-1959) and Eisenhower (1890-1969) were practically the same age when they died. Marshall was a man who was immensely respected not only by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Government, but by the British Government, the Canadian Government, and many of the governments of the mainland of Europe, of Japan, of South Korea, etc. During or after World War II, the British government made Marshall an honorary Knight of the Order of the Bath, just as it did for Eisenhower, Admiral King, Admiral Nimitz, General Arnold of the Army Air Forces, an some other top commanders of the American armed forces. Many were honored with honorary knighthoods in the Order of the British Empire, too. (According to our Consitituion, no American citizen can accept an actual knighthood or any title of nobility from a foreign govenment, and the United States definitely does not give any of these itself. That is strictly illegal.)

    While Eisenhower was the President, Marshall spent his final illness in 1958-59 in an Army hospital in northern Virginia. President Eisenhower visited him several times in the hospital, as did many foreign leaders including the Queen of Greece.

  • Angela Booth

    Wonderful list. My pet peeve is “on a daily basis”. “Daily” works better.

    “in close proximity” always makes me snicker… 🙂

  • Heather

    My understanding is that “since,” in academic or formal writing, is only to be used in temporal instances–those related to time. “Because” works fine in its place.

    Thanks for the helpful list.

  • KOTIREDDY SAGILI

    Thanks for the helpful list

  • Matthew Battles

    Precision and concision are always desirable. I’m not sure, however, that we need to chalk up every instance of the phrases in this list with “unnecessary wordiness.” Indeed, the very concept is easily taken too far. We do much more with language than simply convey information in the least number of bits, after all. Speaking is also a matter of melody and rhythm, mnemonic triggers and acoustic framing. None of these need convey semantic meaning to be meaningful in discourse—instead, they can help alert our listeners and readers that a piece of important information is about to be conveyed, that some obligation is being tendered or discharged, or that we share a relationship with one another.

  • Nick – Editor

    Although these phrases are wordy, that’s not the common cause. It’s a general wordy style. Take the opening paragraph of this post.

    The following phrases need not be summarily replaced by more concise alternatives, but consider making the switch, especially when you find yourself using various wordy phrases frequently in the same text. 35 words.

    Here’s a concise alternative.

    You don’t always need to replace these phrases with the concise alternatives, but think about editing them when they occur often in the same text. 25 words.

    Nick Wright
    Designer of the StyleWriter – plain English Editing Software

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