What are the most overused words?

An end-of-year review of the most overused words of 2015 suggested that “so” is the winner.

I have to agree. During the past year I have become aware that “so” is used more and more by someone being interviewed to begin a response.

Interviewer: What does the latest poll show about the candidates?
Interviewee: So, the latest poll. . .

Over time, the way we speak becomes the way we write.  Many of my students begin sentences with “so.” Usually this is when they are thinking about a cause and an effect.

For example, The mother gave the baby a bottle. So the baby stopped crying. So the mother turned off the light. So the baby went to sleep.

Many other words are overused by children learning to write. Among the ones I see the most are

  • “Then.” Children are thinking about a sequence of actions and use “then” to show that one action follows another.
  • “A lot.” Students use “a lot” or “lots” when they too lazy or tired to write a specific amount.  Recommend using a number, even an estimate, as an alternative.
  • “Thing.” (Also “something,” “anything,” and “everything.”)  Ask the student writer to be specific. Using “thing” is a habit of laziness.

The easiest way to correct the overuse of a word is to let the student write the overused word in his rough draft.  When it is time to revise, ask the student to circle the culprit word.   Ask him what he notices.  Usually he will sheepishly respond that he has used a word too many times.  Offer suggestions on how to improve the writing.

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