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11 Filler Words You Need to (Literally) Cut from Your Vocabulary

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11 Filler Words to Cut from Your Vocabulary Textbookscom BlogDo you have crutch words, verbal ticks, or plain ol’ bad wordsmithing habits? Us, too. And Grammarly is here to help. We caught up with head copy editor Brittney Ross about some no-no filler words, how to sound smarter and more confident, and writing tips to get your emails, papers, business pitches, and conversations into tip-top shape.

Often, we don't realize that these filler words and phrases are creeping into our writing - nor do we see how they can undermine and weaken our writing. In a few ways, says Ross. “First, you have the weasel words — basically, in general, mostly, sort of, virtually, often, I think — these are words you stick into your sentences when you don’t want to be blamed for inaccuracy. If somebody finds some way to contradict you, well, you did say ‘in general’!”

Then there are the empty intensifiers – the empty calories of the word world: really, absolutely, definitely, very, totally, literally. “When ‘I’m happy’ doesn’t feel strong enough, it’s tempting to use one of these intensifiers for emphasis: ‘I’m very happy.’ Don’t fall into that trap!” says Ross. “Empty intensifiers often weaken you descriptions rather than strengthen them. Reach for a more expressive word, such as thrilled, delighted, or ecstatic.”

Other times, we’re looking to soften the blow or nice things up. And you aren’t alone – even as a confident and qualified writer (she is a proofreader at Grammarly, after all), Ross has her fallbacks.

“Confession time: I’m guilty of overusing just. It creeps in when I’m making a request or raising a concern. It’s a way of softening a message that might otherwise sound brusque or cold. But it’s not all that effective, and there’s a risk that it will sound passive aggressive: “Just wanted to check in about why you missed that deadline!”

“Filler words can feel like they protect you, but it’s a false sense of security,” Ross says. “If someone has a reason to argue with you, they will. In fact, filler words may encourage readers to challenge you because they make you sound uncertain and unwilling to take a position.”

Let’s look at the some common filler words – and how to fix them.

1. Literally
Do we have to explain this one? Rarely is the word literally needed, and the more you say it, the less believable it becomes. This is literally the first filler word you should cross off the list.

INSTEAD OF   I literally almost got hit by a car on Elm Street today.
TRY   I almost got hit by a car on Elm Street today.

2. Ironically
Ironically is both a filler word and often misused. Sometimes when people use ironically they mean coincidentally, not ironically.

INSTEAD OF   Ironically, I was about to ask Jim the same question.
TRY   Coincidentally, I was about to ask Jim the same question.
OR   I was about to ask Jim the same question.

3. Just
Just do it. That works for Nike, but for you, just cut to the chase and be confident. Don’t dance around what you want to know, just ask directly.

INSTEAD OF   I just wanted to ask if you looked at my budget proposal yet.
TRY   I wanted to ask if you looked at my budget proposal yet.
OR   Did you look at my proposal yet?

4. Truly
Ahh, the empty intensifier rears again. Put truly on your no-no list and instead say why you truly feel that way.

INSTEAD OF   I truly love Shakespeare.
TRY   I love Shakespeare.
OR   I love Shakespeare’s humor, human spirit, and historical viewpoint.

5. Very
Emphatic filler words like very, really, and totally can be perceived as a complete exaggeration and can totally undermine your point.

INSTEAD OF   I really want to take a baking class. I’m very interested in learning how to make a proper crust.
TRY   I want to take a baking class. I’m interested in learning how to make a proper crust.
OR   I want to take a baking class so I can learn how to make a proper crust.

6. Actually
Words like actually are actually verbal ticks – the equivalent of like, uhh, and umm. Trim the fat from your writing and presentations and get to the point.

INSTEAD OF   Actually, I was wondering how that came about!
TRY   I was wondering how that came about!

7. Basically
Rinse, repeat.

INSTEAD OF   Basically, John said he would help us photoshop those images.
TRY   John said he would help us photoshop those images.

8. Never
This is a negative Nancy word that rarely applies and could undermine what you’re saying, either as negative thinking or an exaggeration. This one’s easy to remember if you remember to “never say never.” Instead reword your sentence and turn it into a positive.

INSTEAD OF   You never get to meetings on time and the whole team has to wait for you.
TRY   You are sometimes late to meetings and the team has to wait for you.

Bonus “delete” word: whole.

9. Always
While on a more positive tip, always is also likely an exaggeration. Did we say likely? Almost certainly. We mean certainly. Or often. Never say never’s best friend is “always avoid always.”

INSTEAD OF   You are always late.
TRY   You are late a lot.

10. Amazing
That restaurant is amazing. She’s an amazing teacher. My trip was amazing. We get it – you love it! But your listener has become inured to the meaning. Confession: we use this word more than we should, too. Let’s cut the cord together.

INSTEAD OF   Professor Smythe is an amazing teacher.
TRY   Professor Smythe is one of the best teachers I’ve had. She's passionate, engaging, and grades fairly.

In other words? Say why the teacher (or restaurant or trip) was amazing, instead of that she or it was amazing.

11. I Think
Can you hear your ninth grade English teacher in your ear? Say what you think instead of “I think that.” It works. You’ll come off as more confident and passionate.

INSTEAD OF   I think you should omit filler words from your writing.
TRY   You should omit filler words from your writing.

For more filler words and phrases, grammar tips, or writing help, head over to Grammarly.com.

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This post originally ran on 6/1/17