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Lurking inside your vocabulary are a few words that can smother your writing in a layer of content-free fluff.

These innocent-looking words force your readers to peer through them to get to your meaning.

Let’s shine a bright light on these false friends so you can avoid their ensnarements.




Surprised?  Surely “very” strengthens your point?  Surely, adding “very” is like underlining and bolding your key words?

No, it isn’t.

Usually, it is paired with a drab, flabby little word.  You’re better off using one powerful word which says precisely what you mean.

At best, “very” weakly amplifies the point that you’ve already made –

Very warm = scorching/ sweltering/ tropical/ fiery/ torrid

Very cross = grumpy/ annoyed/ incandescent/ enraged/ wrathful

Very quick = zippy/ speedy/ brisk/ lightning-fast/ instantaneous.

At worst, “very” adds nothing at all:

Very enthusiastic = enthusiastic

Very soft = soft

Very delicious = delicious.

Drop your “very’s” and your writing will be sharper and more interesting.


A once-grand word, “luxury” has become worn-out, rubbed bare by mistreatment and drained of meaning through inappropriate usage.

Every box flat is a luxury apartment.  Every woolly jumper is made of a luxurious yarn.  Even toilet paper has become luxury tissues.

“Luxury” has become a way of claiming that an ordinary, mass-market product is a little bit better than you might, at first, expect.

The box flat has a view.  The woolly jumper is 5% cashmere.  The toilet paper is soft.

Because it is so over-used, “luxury” sounds more like an inflated promise than an accurate description.

You are best-off avoiding it.


Poor “literally”.  It is the most mangled, misused and misunderstood word in the English language.

“Literally” has only one definition – “true in a literal sense”.

The Oxford English Dictionary warns sternly against using it for emphasis when something is not true:

“Although this use can lead to unintentionally humorous effects (e.g. we were literally killing ourselves laughing), it is not acceptable in standard English.”

Quite right too.  No one has ever literally had steam coming out of their ears.  No pet lover has ever literally owned a million cats.  Your brother-in-law is not literally the most annoying person who ever lived.

If something is true in a literal sense, nothing is added by using “literally”.

“Our new range is so popular that we literally sold out of dresses in an hour.”

means the same thing as

“Our new range is so popular that we sold out of dresses in an hour.”

Worse still, if you mis-use “literally” as an easy way to ramp up the power of your prose, half your readers will scream a silent scream of irritation and stop reading.


Once upon a time, “unique” meant something.  It was “one-of-a-kind”.  Or it “belonged to one particular person, place or thing”.

Nowadays, it could mean anything from “unlike anything in the known universe” to “slightly different from many other similar things.”

So when you are describing your products, don’t bother stating that they are unique.

Instead, focus on their one-of-a-kind benefits or features, for example:

“You can watch films on our tablet for 12 hours without re-charging.  Its battery is the most powerful on the market.”

“Our cinnamon-flavoured chocolate is sweet enough without adding sugar.  You can enjoy it without worrying about gaining weight.”

If you cannot resist “unique”, please – I beg you – take care not to say “totally unique”, “quite unique” or “utterly unique”.

Something is either unique or it isn’t.  You cannot improve its one-of-a-kind-ness with an extra adjective.

There is/are

Your readers may doze off to sleep if you begin too many of your sentences with “There is” or “There are”.

You can cut these unnecessary words without losing any meaning -

“There are ten people in our team.” = “Our team has ten people.”

Even better, crack on with what you want to say -

“Our ten-person team answers 900 calls from customers every day.”

Help your readers by using vibrant, content-rich words

If you want to communicate your meaning to your readers, they need to be able to form clear, vivid, colourful pictures in their minds.

Boring, over-used words, such as “very”, “literally”, “unique”, “luxury” and “there is” stop your readers forming these mental pictures.  They are too vague.  They lack specificity or interest.

That’s why you should cut them from your writing.

Over to you …

Which words bore you to tears?  What hackneyed terms and phrases do you wish writers would stop using?

Get it off your chest by posting a comment.

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