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Forbidden Words: Traps to Avoid in Your Writing

Most anyone who has heard me talk about writing knows of my disdain for the word very. I’m quick to strike it whenever I see it; only rarely does it survive my critical eye. Along with very, here are some words to avoid in your writing:

Very: Writers use very to intensify the word that follows it. But if that word can’t stand on its own, then it’s the wrong word for the job. Pick a stronger one. Usually, the sentence is stronger by simply deleting very; if not the sentence needs work.

Of course, there are exceptions, but they are very, very rare. (Or should I simply say exceptions are rare?)

Really: Another intensifier is really. Really doesn’t do much to improve writing. Only very is more useless. Don’t say, “The rose was really red.” Try, “The rose was a vibrant red,” or be content with “The rose was red.”

Really avoid using “really.” (That is, avoid really.)

Just: The word just is another word to watch out for. Instead of intensifying the word that follows it, just lessens its partner. Would we ever say, “I’m just a writer?” Of course not!

When it comes to “just,” just skip it. (That is, skip using just.)

Almost and Somewhat: These two words also serve to lessen the words that follow. Don’t say, “It was somewhat cloudy.” That phrasing diminishes cloudy. Even the weather term “partly cloudy” is questionable as far as good writing is concerned. Instead, try “clouds scattered among a backdrop of blue.”

Using almost is somewhat weak writing. (Using almost is weak writing.)

Sort of and kind of: These two pair of phrases waffle on what follows. My favorite pet peeve is “sort of pregnant.” Either you are pregnant or you aren’t; there’s no middle ground. While most other examples aren’t so unequivocal, the principle still applies.

It’s kind of bad whenever we use sort of. (It’s bad to use sort of – and kind of.)

These words creep into our writing, and intentional examples aside, I had to edit a few occurrences out of this piece. So join me on a campaign to improve our writing by avoiding these weak words: very, really, just, almost, and somewhat, as well as the phrases sort of and kind of.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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