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5 Words Not to Use – My College Professor’s Grammar Pet Peeves

Posted on by Melanie Yunk

In my college English class, our instructor adamantly exclaimed she absolutely despised a certain set of words. She claimed any sentence, paragraph, letter, document or book would be better read without these grammar pet peeves. I wish I could remember this professor’s name because she taught me more about writing than almost anyone else during those years.

English, Grammar, Book, Words

We were told by this wise woman most people write sloppily and use excessive language. Most writing contains “fluff,” causing readers to spend unnecessary time and energy “getting to the point.”

By now you’re probably dying to see this magic list of words not to use in your writing, right? Now keep in mind she never said these words should “never” be used. She said they are overused and most often are unnecessary. Anyway, here we go:

1. THE – Yes, really. Check it out. Go back through your latest post, article or email and remove this word. The majority of the time, you’ll find by removing this word, a sentence reads even better, more smoothly. Of course, you’ll need to include it occasionally, but try it out.

2. THAT – Another unnecessary word. Just don’t use it. This word is in this article once – right here in this paragraph. That’s it. That’s all. That’s the only place.

3. TO BE – Whenever you plan to use any form of this verb, an active verb is a great replacement. For example, the sentence:

When writing a blog post, an active verb would be the desirable method for creating this content.

reads much better as:

When writing a blog post, active verbs offer more desirable and interesting content.

See how much better this sentence sounds? Which sentence would you prefer to read?

4. IT – Use this word very carefully. You see, when “it” starts a sentence or is the only noun in a sentence, often the word “it” references is unclear. For example:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. It was sleeping under a log.

Does “it” refer to the quick brown fox or the lazy dog? We’d like to believe the dog was sleeping under a log; however, this reference is unclear and creates confusion. Remove this word from your writing and you’ll clear up a lot of confusion.

5. UTILIZE – Ok, I admit this one is my grammar pet peeve, not the professor’s. Please add “utilize” to your list of words not to use. Why use this word when you can say “use” instead? What does utilize even mean? When did you last utilize your spatula to make pancakes? When does anyone say “utilize” in a sentence? Why use this word in your writing. I don’t get “it.”

If Ms. BestEverEnglishTeacher is reading this post, thank you for making me a better writer. You made a huge impression on me.

Do you have any grammar pet peeves? Tell us your nits below!

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