30 Problem Words and Phrases
Tried-and-true words and phrases are convenient, but they are also truly trying — as with clichés, when a writer relies too heavily on stock usage, the resulting prose is tired and uninspired. Watch out for the following deadly usages.
1. After having: “After looking around, I chose a seat” is fine, and so is “Having looked around, I chose a seat,” but “After having looked around, I chose a seat” is redundant. “Having” means that the action has already been performed, so the context is clear that the writer is writing after the fact.
2. Aged: Identifying the age or age range of a person or a group with this word puts the subject(s) in a category with cheese or wine. Write “50 years old,” for example, instead of “aged 50 years,” or “ages 21–34” rather than “aged 21–34.”
3. Aggravate: To aggravate is to make something worse, not to bother, annoy, or irritate.
4. And also: And and also are redundant; use one or the other.
5. Anticipate: To anticipate is to foresee (and perhaps act on that foresight), not to expect.
6. Anxious: To be anxious is to feel distressed or worried, not eager.
7. Approximately: How about using about instead? Save three syllables. For scientific or technical references, approximately is fine, but it’s a bit much in most other contexts.
8. As to whether: “As to” is extraneous; use whether only.
9. At this point in time: Omit this meaningless filler.
10. Basically, essentially, totally: Basically, these words are essentially nonessential, and you can totally dispense with them.
11. Being as/being that: Replace these phrases with because.
12. Considered to be: “To be” is extraneous; write considered only, or consider deleting it as well.
13. Could care less: No, you couldn’t. You want to convey that it’s not possible for you to care
less, so you couldn’t care less.
14. Due to the fact that: Replace this phrase with because.
15. Each and every: Write “Each item is unique,” or “Every item is unique,” but not “Each and every item is unique.”
16. Equally as: As is superfluous; write equally only.
17. Was a factor, is a factor, will be a factor: If your writing includes one of these phrases, its presence is a sign that you’re not done revising yet; rewrite “The vehicle’s condition is a factor in performance,” for example, to “The vehicle’s condition affects its performance.”
18. Had ought: Had is redundant; use ought only.
19. Have got: Got is suitable for informal writing only; if you’re referring to necessity, consider must rather than “have got,” and if the reference is to simple possession, delete got from the phrase “have got.”
20. In many cases/it has often been the case: Reduce the word count in statements containing these verbose phrases by replacing “in many cases” with often, for example.
21. In the process of: This extraneous phrasing is acceptable in extemporaneous speaking but unnecessarily verbose in prepared oration and in writing.
22. Is a . . . which/who: If you find yourself writing a phrase like this, step back and determine how to write it more succinctly; “Smith is a man who knows how to haggle,” for example, can be abbreviated to “Smith knows how to haggle.”
23. Kind of/sort of: In formal writing, if you must qualify a statement, use a more stately qualifier such as rather, slightly, or somewhat.
24. Lots/lots of: In formal writing, employ many or much in place of one of these colloquialisms.
25. Of a . . . character: If you use character as a synonym for quality, make the reference concise. “The wine has a musty character” is better rendered “The wine tasted musty, and “He was a man with a refined character” can be revised to the more concise statement “The man was refined,” but better yet, describe how the man is refined.
26. Of a . . . nature: Just as with character, when you use nature as a synonym for quality, pare the phrasing down: Reduce “She had a philosophical nature,” for example, to “She was philosophical.”
27. Oftentimes: An outdated, unnecessary complication of often.
28. On account of: Replace this awkward phrase with because.
29. Renown: Renown is the noun (as well as a rarely used verb); renowned is the adjective. Avoid the like of “the renown statesman.”
30. Thankfully: In formal usage, this word is not considered a synonym for fortunately.
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