And by exple­tives, I don’t mean swear words. Exple­tives are words and phras­es that con­tribute noth­ing mean­ing­ful to a sen­tence.

As you know, I’ve talked at length about cut­ting down on wordi­ness. Exple­tives are one way — pos­si­bly the most pro­lif­ic way — that we’re wordy in our writ­ing. For exam­ple, I’ve talked about this in the past with words like real­ly and very, but there are plen­ty of oth­er exam­ples.

Exple­tives fall into 3 gen­er­al cat­e­gories: emp­ty words, mean­ing­less phras­es, and redun­dant pairs.

Empty words

Emp­ty words con­tribute to a sen­tence in no sig­nif­i­cant way. They’re the soft drinks of the gram­mar world, emp­ty of any val­ue.

Here are a few exam­ples:

  • Actu­al­ly
  • Basi­cal­ly
  • Clear­ly
  • Obvi­ous­ly
  • Var­i­ous

And here are these exam­ples used in a sen­tence:

  • At any one time, 10 to 15 per­cent of us have a cowork­er, or actu­al­ly usu­al­ly a boss, that’s bul­ly­ing us.” (CNBC)
  • Sin­ga­pore Air­lines’ new cab­ins are basi­cal­ly a hotel room in the sky.” (Mash­able)
  • ”Cana­di­an and Amer­i­can com­pa­nies clear­ly want to do more busi­ness togeth­er.” (Export Devel­op­ment Cana­da)
  • Vol­ume, how many can be giv­en vac­cine per unit of time, is obvi­ous­ly a func­tion of how easy it is for the per­son giv­ing the shot.” (Forbes)
  • Var­i­ous pack­aged veg­etable prod­ucts recalled over lis­te­ria con­cern.” (CTV)

Now, here are those sen­tences with­out the emp­ty words:

  • At any one time, 10 to 15 per­cent of us have a cowork­er, or usu­al­ly a boss, that’s bul­ly­ing us.”
    “Sin­ga­pore Air­lines’ new cab­ins are a hotel room in the sky.”
    ”Cana­di­an and Amer­i­can com­pa­nies want to do more busi­ness togeth­er.”
    “Vol­ume, how many can be giv­en vac­cine per unit of time, is a func­tion of how easy it is for the per­son giv­ing the shot.”
    “Pack­aged veg­etable prod­ucts recalled over lis­te­ria con­cern.”

Remov­ing the emp­ty words doesn’t sig­nif­i­cant­ly alter the sen­tences’ mean­ing. If any­thing, it makes the author’s intent clear­er.

Keep in mind, that the 5 words above are only 5 exam­ples of a much larg­er list. Just make sure the words you write offer val­ue to your read­ers.

Meaningless phrases

Mean­ing­less phras­es are, well, phras­es devoid of mean­ing. Their mean­ing should be obvi­ous from the rest of the sen­tence. Here are some exam­ples:

  • A lot of
  • In my opin­ion
  • It is impor­tant that
  • Kind of

Here they are in some sen­tences:

  • Snapchat isn’t work­ing for a lot of peo­ple” (Tech Insid­er)
  • It is quite easy to project China’s future role in APEC, which in my opin­ion, would be most­ly about trade and eco­nom­ic mat­ters.” (CGTN)
  • Accord­ing to the NHS it is impor­tant that our bod­ies have the right bal­ance of expo­sure to good and bad germs in our every­day envi­ron­ment …” (The Sun)
  • Google’s Files Go app is kind of like Air­Drop for Android” (The Verge)

And the edit­ed sen­tences:

  • Snapchat isn’t work­ing for peo­ple” or “Snapchat isn’t work­ing”
  • It is quite easy to project China’s future role in APEC, which would be most­ly about trade and eco­nom­ic mat­ters.”
  • Accord­ing to the NHS, our bod­ies need the right bal­ance of expo­sure to good and bad germs in our every­day envi­ron­ment …”
  • Google’s Files Go app is like Air­Drop for Android”

Redundant pairs

These are pairs of words where each word means the same thing. Here are some exam­ples:

  • Com­plete­ly over­haul
  • Each indi­vid­ual
  • End result
  • Final out­come
  • First and fore­most
  • Free gift
  • Peri­od of time

Here are a few exam­ples:

  • It takes about one month to over­haul a loco­mo­tive com­plete­ly.” (The New Indi­an Express)
  • For starters, you can lim­it each indi­vid­ual app on your phone to track­ing your loca­tion either all the time …” (Wired)
  • If that’s not ter­ror­ism, it’s cer­tain­ly is the clos­est you’ll see to it this side of the Mid­dle East and the end result is the same.” (Glob­al)
  • … only a harass­ment pro­ce­dure in which MPs con­trol the final out­come is accept­able.” (The Guardian)
  • The case of Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe is first and fore­most a sto­ry of ter­ri­ble per­son­al suf­fer­ing for a young woman, her hus­band and their baby girl.” (BBC)
  • Fall­en leaves can be a free gift in the gar­den” (Kelow­na Cap­i­tal News)
  • The body is believed to have been in the loca­tion for an extend­ed peri­od of time before being dis­cov­ered.” (FOX 15)

And here they are edit­ed:

Here are a few exam­ples:

  • It takes about one month to over­haul a loco­mo­tive.”
  • For starters, you can lim­it each app on your phone to track­ing your loca­tion either all the time …”
  • If that’s not ter­ror­ism, it’s cer­tain­ly is the clos­est you’ll see to it this side of the Mid­dle East and the result is the same.”
  • … only a harass­ment pro­ce­dure in which MPs con­trol the out­come is accept­able.”
  • The case of Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe is fore­most a sto­ry of ter­ri­ble per­son­al suf­fer­ing for a young woman, her hus­band and their baby girl.”
  • Fall­en leaves can be a gift in the gar­den”
  • The body is believed to have been in the loca­tion for an extend­ed peri­od before being dis­cov­ered.”

Bonus category

There is one more group of exple­tives; although they don’t have as sim­ple a name as the oth­ers. They include phras­es that begin with herethere, and it. Here are some exam­ples:

  • Ger­many still has no gov­ern­ment — here are the key rea­sons why” (CNBC)
  • There are sup­port sys­tems for vic­tims of fam­i­ly vio­lence” (Leth­bridge Her­ald)
  • A chill­ing tale of how easy it is for banks to lose your mon­ey” (New York Post)

And again, here they are edit­ed:

  • The key rea­sons why Ger­many still has no gov­ern­ment”
  • Sup­port sys­tems exist for vic­tims of fam­i­ly vio­lence”
  • A chill­ing tale of how eas­i­ly banks can lose your mon­ey”

Wordi­ness is one of the writ­ing prob­lems I see most often. I even see it in some of my old blog posts. There are many ways to edit our writ­ing, but elim­i­nat­ing exple­tives is a good place to start.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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