How to avoid unnecessary words in speech and writing?

A student just spoke to me. She said. “Madam, like, I, um, as I said before, I wanted to say this, but like….”. I stopped her. I said. “What do you want to say? Form a short sentence about it in your mind and say it.”

We often use words that mean nothing at all. Speaking/writing meaningless words wastes the listeners or the reader’s time. Few people have the patience to plough through the “likes” and “ums”, the “as you knows” and the “as I said befores”. Your examiner may even see this as a ploy to fill the page. He/she cannot be asked to wade through unnecessary words and pick the right ones.

When we use extra words and unnecessarily longer expressions, we confuse the reader. It is best to say what we want to say in a few well-chosen words. Unnecessary words are those that do not add to the meaning of what you say: they dilute your opinions and arguments: they annoy the reader/listener. While using superfluous words might be forgiveable when speaking, it is not so when you are writing.

A word which adds nothing extra to a sentence is called a pleonasm. Example: “We joined the wires together.” Which word can be dropped here? [Answer: “together.” Join means putting together.]

A word which merely repeats the meaning of another word in an expression is called a tautology. Pleonasm and Tautology refer to words that can be omitted. Example: DVD disc. [Omit “disc’].

Completely surrounded, completely destroyed, completely filled, completely opposite, completely finished – the modifier “completely” is redundant in all these verbs. When something is destroyed, finished, filled or surrounded, it is completely so. And opposites are not diametrically so. So the expression “completely opposite” doesn’t mean anything.

Superfluous speech

The magazine “India Today” once came up with phrases that are redundant – words that are repeated and not necessary to convey your thoughts. One that jumps to mind is the expression free gift” Isn’t a gift free, given with affection? There is no gift for which you pay. If you pay for something, then it is not a gift. So what is a free gift? Just say, “gift.”

Then there is “general public.” What is the word “general” doing here? “Public” means people in general. If you say “general public”, you are saying “general, general people.” This is unnecessary. Instead, say: “The public wants to know the amount spent on restoring the lake.”

Watch what you say!

Ah, and this unbearable phrase “first and foremost.” If something is foremost”, it is clearly in the first position. Example: “There are many reasons for fevers increasing in the rainy season: the foremost among them is water stagnation.” OR “First, let me give you the good news.” not “First and foremost let me give you the good news.

Have you ever said to friends/family. “I have/I want the exact same dress!” if you do, stop saying that. “Same” means “exact. If the two are not the same, we would say, “similar.” By the way, you cannot have the “same” dress, unless the person wearing it is willing to give it to you. So the sentence will be. “I want a dress exactly like that one.”

Another often-misused word is “advance”. “Advance” means “beforehand”. Similarly, “planning” is doing something beforehand. Then why would you say, “advance planning”? OR “advance warming” OR “advance reservations? “Warning” and “reservations are done before an event happens, right? The word “advance” in these expressions is superfluous. Just say. “Approach counter number one for reservations.”

And please do not write “add up.” The word “up is redundant here. It does not add to the meaning of this phrase. When you add, you make a sum. Why would you “up” it?

You do not “ask a question.” You merely “ask. Asking means “posing a question.” Example: “She asked if she could get a ticket for the movie.”

What not to say

Why would you say “ATM machines” when ATM stands for Automated Teller Machines?

Why would you say “ECR Road” when ECR stands for East Coast Road?

Why would you say “LPG gas” when LPG stands for Liquefied Petroleum Gas?

When you use an abbreviation, it is a good idea to find out what the letters stand for.

And what is the meaning of “all-time record”? “Record” is when you achieve a goal that others have not. Any record is for all time, till it is broken. Say: “Winning all three awards was a record for India.”

Think before you write!

Do not add “basic” to “fundamentals”, “necessities”, “essentials.” By their nature, “fundamentals”, necessities” and “essentials” are basic. So the word “basic” is unnecessary. Example: “Food, water and a roof are necessities for every human being.”

How many times have we heard people say “brief moment” or “brief summary”? A moment is brief, and a summary is brief. If it is long, it cannot be called a summary. It becomes an essay. A moment cannot be long unless the author wants to create a feeling of time passing. So “brief moment” and “brief summary” do not make sense at all.

Objectionable phrases

Writers also object to the phrase “empty space.” Their argument space refers to a continuous area or expanse that is free, unoccupied, available. “Space” is essentially empty. The word “empty is redundant. Example: “We have enough space for ten people here.”

The expression “few in number” is wrong for several reasons. First, the adjective “few’ means almost nil or negligible in number. The word “few” is used only with countable nouns. “Few” already means “a small number.” Example: “Few people will support the idea that children need not know handwork.” If you want to use “few” to convey a certain small number, simply say, “a few.” Example: A few students have volunteered to help with the arrangements. NOT “A few in number’.

Avoid saying “new innovation” and “added bonus.”


Picture Credit : Google