Four Types of Unnecessary Words and Phrases

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Dummy Subjects

Dummy subjects are expletive words—words that take up space without adding meaning—and occur in phrases like there is, there are, there was, there were, it is, and it was. Because they are usually unnecessary and wordy, avoid using dummy subjects whenever possible. (For more details, see the handout on dummy subjects.)

Nominalizations

Nominalizations are nouns that are created from adjectives (words that describe nouns) or verbs (action words). For example, “decision” is a nominalization of “decide” and “argument” is a nominalization of “argue.” The endings of the nominalized forms vary, but many end in “-ion/tion”, “-ment,” “-ity/–ty”, and “-ness.” While they can be useful and effective if used in moderation, they frequently make sentences longer, wordier, and more difficult to understand.

Infinitive Phrases

Infinitive phrases are phrases that contain verb infinitives (to + verb). While these are useful, they often add wordiness and length to sentences for no reason. Instead of an infinitive phrase, try using finite verbs or noun phrases.

Circumlocutions

Circumlocutions are commonly used roundabout expressions that take several words to say what could be said more succinctly. We often overlook them because many such expressions are habitual figures of speech. In academic writing, though, they should be avoided since they add extra words without extra meaning.

The next page contains a list of common circumlocutions along with their concise counterparts. (The attentive reader will recognize a few dummy subjects and nominalizations in the list!)

Wordy Phrase Concise Alternative
as to/as regards about
at present/at the present time now, today, currently
at the time that when
at this time now, today, currently
at this/that point in time now/then
because of the fact that because
by means of by, with
cannot be avoided must, should
concerning the matter of about, concerning, regarding
considering/due to/owing to the fact that because, since, why
for the reason that because, since why
has the ability/capacity/opportunity to can
in a situation in which when
in actual fact actually (or delete)
in excess of more than, over
in light of the fact that because, since, why
in/with regard/reference to about, concerning, regarding
in the event of if
in the process of while (or delete)
inasmuch as because, since
is able to can
it could happen that could, may, might
it is crucial/important/necessary that must, should
it is possible that could, may, might
literally actually (or delete)
on the grounds that because, since, why
on the occasion of when
presently now, soon
previous/prior to before
subsequent to after
subsequently later
the possibility exists for could, may, might
the reason for/why because, since, why
there is a chance that could, may, might
there is a need/necessity for must, should
this is an example of this is
this is why because, since, why
this serves as a way to this
this shows that thus, (delete)
under circumstances in which why
where X is concerned about, concerning, regarding
whether or not whether

Credit: Adapted from the Purdue OWL Guide (https://owl.purdue.edu/) and Christina Thompson (https://blog.dce.harvard.edu/extension/cut-clutter-17-phrases-omit-your-writing-today), 2020.