Weak words are everywhere.
Like ants invading your home in summer, they slip through the cracks and slowly distract your reader.
They turn fascinating ideas into never-ending articles people can’t wait to run away from.
Worse, they undermine you and make you sound insecure.
Luckily, getting rid of weak words is much easier than getting rid of ants.
Here is a list of common weak words and flabby expressions, and their alternatives.
Weak words to avoid in writing
Weak words have no purpose. They appear out of habit and clog up your writing.
In most cases, deleting them will strengthen your copy without changing its meaning. In other cases, replacing weak words with more powerful words will energize your writing and give it a new depth.
Weak words aren’t always bad though. They are useful when they change the meaning of the words they precede.
e.g, A zebra is basically a horse with stripes.
Here, “basically” adds an important nuance. Without it, the sentence would have a different meaning.
Here is a list of common weak words and fluff words:
- Absolutely => unnecessary. (e.g. The work he does at the UN is
- Definitely => often redundant (e.g. I’m definitely going to do it => I will do it)
- Totally => unnecessary (e.g. Sorry, I
- Actually => unnecessary (e.g. I’m
actuallysurprised they came to the event)
- Personally => redundant unless used for emphasis (e.g, I
personallydon’t think it’s a problem)
- Technically => unnecessary (e.g.
technicallya banana is a fruit)
- Virtually => redundant
- Simply => unnecessary (e.g. She is
- Possibly => unnecessary (e.g. We are ready. Nothing could
- Somehow => unnecessary (e.g. I don’t know how, but I
somehowmanaged to do it)
- Just => unnecessary (e.g. Once you are done following the steps,
you just need tomake sure everything is working)
- Very => unnecessary (e.g. An online business is one of the
verybest businesses for a student to run)
- Pretty => unnecessary unless you use it to sound more conversational (e.g,
prettydetailed, prettyawesome, prettydifficult)
- Some => redundant (e.g. This recipe contains
- Honestly => unnecessary (e.g. I
honestlydon’t know what to say)
- Really => unnecessary (e.g. Luckily, smart people already took care of the most complicated aspects and there are
reallyonly 2 things you need to do)
- That => unnecessary (e.g. There are several locations near San Francisco
thatyou can stay at to save money. There are several affordable places to stay near San Francisco)
Weak words you can replace with stronger words
If perfectionism is the enemy of progress, intensifiers are the enemy of flow. They have noble intentions and try to be helpful but often steal the show from more colorful words and expressions.
When you come across an intensifier, ask yourself: Is there a more powerful word or phrase I could use? Could I be more precise/emotional?
- Extremely small => tiny, minuscule
- Extremely important => essential, vital
- Extremely big => enormous, gigantic
The majority of plastic that gets produced ends up in our oceans which then breaks down to extremely small particles
=> The majority of plastic that gets produced ends up in our oceans which then breaks down to tiny particles
- Very good => great, excellent, extraordinary
- Very bad => terrible, appalling
- Very sad => devastating
- Very interesting => fascinating, captivating
- Very tasty => delicious
- Very clever => brilliant
- Really good => great, superb, fantastic
- Really bad => terrible, appalling
You may still reach your destination, but it will take much longer.
=> You may still reach your destination but it will take ages.
Redundant words and phrases
These pleonasms and tautologies serve no purpose and can be eliminated in most cases:
- Added bonus => bonus
- All time record => record
- Alternative choice => alternative
- Basic necessities => necessities
- Closed proximity => close
- End result => result
- Exactly the same => the same
- Each and every => every
- Past experience => experience
- A total of => give the exact number instead
- Revert back => revert
- 12 midnight => midnight
- 12 noon => noon
These words are so overused they have lost their meaning. Every company pretends to be “innovative”, “cutting-edge” or the best at something.
In most cases, you are better off replacing them with stronger or more precise words.
Don’t tell people your Indian restaurant is the best in London, prove it by displaying awards you received.
Don’t say your app is the best way to learn Spanish, show testimonials, quote studies or tell people what makes you different.
Don’t say you offer the cheapest product, show people how much they will save.
Flabby expressions and wordy phrases
Flabby expressions are expressions that stretch out way more than necessary. Like weak words, they take valuable space and make reading more difficult.
Here are some of the most common:
- In order to => to
- At a later date => later
- Despite the fact that => although
- In spite of => despite
- At the present time => now
- At this point in time => now
- In the near future => soon
- In the event that => if
- Due to the fact that => because
- In this day and age => today/these days
- At which time => when
- As far as I’m concerned => can be deleted
- As a matter of fact => can be deleted
- As to whether => whether
- The majority of => most
- A number of => some, several
- At all times => always
- Have the ability to => can
- On a daily basis => daily
Expressions of doubt
Occasionally expressing doubt and adding nuance is healthy. Doubting everything you say is not.
These words and phrases have their place in your writing as long as they don’t undermine you and make you sound insecure.
- I think
- I believe
When you find such expressions in your writing, ask yourself: Is expressing doubt necessary? Do I have doubts or am I using an expression of doubt out of habit?
How to get rid of weak words and flabby expressions
We all use weak words. You may even have noticed weak words in this article. The goal isn’t to sanitize your copy and eradicate weak words, it’s to strike the right balance.
You don’t want to say “like” or “literally” in every sentence, but adding it once in a while makes you sound more relatable.
Practice makes perfect. So pick an article you wrote and highlight the weak words and flabby expressions you find.
Then ask yourself:
- Does the word serve a purpose?
- Can I replace it with a more colorful/precise word?
- Is there a way to shorten the phrase?
- Are there weak words and flabby expressions I keep using and need to avoid in future articles?
You can also use ProWritingAid (a privacy-friendly Grammarly alternative) to scan your writing for flabby expressions, weak words, and redundant words.