Have you ever been self editing and wondered what you can do to make your prose stronger? Or, have you ever received a draft back from an editor–a draft you’ve already gone over multiple times yourself–and noticed lots of deletions?
You’re not alone. We all use crutch words when we speak, and those words ten to transfer to our writing.
What are crutch words?
In speech, they’re filler words that give us more time to think about our response. In writing, they’re words and phrases we’ve picked up or used for a particular reason, but we end up overusing them.
A good example is the word “definitely.” This is one of my crutch words. I’m sure I started using it in emails or other writing to sound positive. Something like, “I can definitely edit that manuscript for you” became the norm. Luckily, I caught onto my email crutch word quickly and now check my emails for it before hitting send.
Identifying Crutch & Filler Words
So, you know what crutch and filler words are, but how do you identify them in your own writing?
Grab an older piece of writing–an old blog post, early chapters of your manuscript, or something else you haven’t touched in a while.
Next, start scanning the text. Every time you see the same word or phrase, highlight or underline it.
Do the same thing but on a more recent piece of writing. If you find similar words or phrases being overused, you’ve found your crutch word!
Words to Eliminate from Your Prose
Crutch words will be different for everyone, but I have compiled a list of words and phrases I see being overused by multiple authors and bloggers, myself included!
But, I’d like to make a few notes before you dive in.
Note #1: Not all of these words are bad, and not every instance needs to be eliminated from your prose. Shocked? Think about it! If your character is speaking, they’ll probably use words like “a bit” or “just.” Dialogue doesn’t need to be perfectly clean because when we speak, we are all over the place. But for your narration, it’s good to keep your diction strong.
Note #2: When you search for these words in your manuscript, note how many times you’ve used the phrase. Did you use “as though” one time? If so, what was the context? Examine each usage carefully, and make a decision about whether it will affect the tone and style of your writing. Use your best judgment.
Note #3: Writing is not an exact science, and neither is editing. Rules are not hard and fast, and there is a lot of gray area. If you love one of the words on this list, don’t feel like you absolutely must remove all traces of it from your work. These words only become a problem when you’re relying on them all the time. Except for “shrugged his/her/their shoulders,” because that’s just redundant!
And now, without further ado, here is an extensive list of words to remove from your prose. Happy writing!
- Seem/Seems/Seemed to
- Appear/Appeared to
- As though
- Beginning to
- Shrugged his/her/their shoulders
- A bit
- Felt like
I can understand words like basically, generally, naturally but it’s news about other crutch words. Nice insight
At the top of that list needs to be the emphatic use of ‘literally’. It causes me an irrational level of annoyance that borders on anger every time I hear it.
Thanks for your comment. Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries include a definition for exactly that informal use of the word. “used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible.” You can see it here, including their FAQ on including this extended definition: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literally
My point is that while some words are crutch words, and while there are almost always ways to strengthen our diction, language and how we use it is always evolving. 🙂
Could “and” be a crutch word? I’m asking because people also tend to use when they begin a sentence.
Great question. 🙂 I wouldn’t consider “and” a crutch word since it’s a common conjunction. Of course, if you’re ALWAYS using ‘and’ without varying sentence structure or diction, it might feel repetitive.
Regarding starting a sentence with “and,” you can absolutely do that! Many of us were told not to use “and” or “but” to start a sentence back in school, but it’s not actually a rule of grammar. In informal writing, those words work better than their formal counterparts “additionally” or”however.”
Good observation. Most people have ‘and’,’like’, ‘you know’syndrome in their speaking. This is also very annoying.
Hi Hannah, thank you for this post. Do you have examples? I am not a professional writer but my profession requires me to write. I almost wrote “Do you have SOME examples?” The inclusion of “some” in that sentence would be a crutch word?
Hi Lauren, glad you liked the post! I don’t think ‘some’ would necessarily be a crutch word there, although it’s not really necessary to include it. What kinds of further examples are you looking for?
What about the word “that” as I find it’s a filler word used way too much and unnecessarily. ex. “I find that the word ‘that’ is used too frequently”. Instead, I would type, “I find the word “that” is used too frequently” and eliminate the first “that”.
Great question! Yes, ‘that’ can be a filler word, though it is sometimes needed. When you’re self-editing, just be sure your sentence makes sense without ‘that’ before deleting it. 🙂
“It” can be a serious crutch word when something proper could be put in “it”s place. “He picked it up.” Vs “he lifted his mug.”
Yes! I’m also surprised “thing” and its cousins aren’t on this list.
Here’s a little more information on what words and when to remove from your writing: https://www.lorenweisman.com/2020/04/11/words-to-remove/ I think this is a good addition.
For me, that’s the hardest part. Where people make do with 20 words, I write over 200. And I can’t help myself. But I try to watch my writing and not use clichés. Often I search for the most popular words – Word highlights these words in the text, and I try to find the words I can leave in the text or remove them. Such revision helps a lot.
A lot of people say ‘like’ all the time now and it can be annoying.
Another word over used is ‘absolutely’ especially my Doctor!
I didn’t know they had a proper name. I just called them ‘confetti’ words.
Oooo! I like that term: “confetti” words! Good one!
Is the phrase ‘I would say’ considered a popular crutch word/phrase when repeated at least three times in an article or transcript? For example: “We had a lot of, I would say, batteries that went bad over that period of time.”
It could be! It depends on the context, but in your example, it looks like a phrase that could be cut and readers would still understand the sentence.