The Language Perfectionist: Superfluous Words

One of the basic principles of good writing is to omit unnecessary words. Conciseness beats verbosity. Consider these examples I recently encountered:

  • “[Author James] Patterson considers himself as an entertainer, not a man of letters.”

The word as is dispensable here. Correct: “Patterson considers himself an entertainer….”

  • “But I can’t recall of an instance when [newspaper] book sections disappeared and book coverage was folded into other sections where the coverage expanded.” The word of adds nothing to this sentence and can be deep-sixed.
  • “Study Spanish for free with our online lessons, vocabulary games, and didactical contents developed by Spanish teachers.”

There’s no doubt that the use of for free is commonplace. (A Google search for the phrase generates half a billion matches!) But the expression is slangy and the preposition is superfluous. Correct: “Study Spanish free….” Some language gurus suggest that at no cost, for nothing, or without charge can work better, depending on the context.

Once acquired, colloquialisms such as those above become habitual and are difficult to extricate from one’s vocabulary. In conversation, they may be forgivable. But make the effort to expunge them from your writing.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]


  • Ron

    Thank you. “For free” has always hit me like finger nails on a blackboard (ok, so I remember blackboards!). Thanks for pointing this out.