51 Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Clichés in Your Writing

Do you want to improve your fiction or creative nonfiction writing? Eliminate these over-used adverbs, adjectives, and nouns! Instead of using clichés and overdone descriptors, find fresh images that will bring your characters and setting to life.

If you’re serious about learning the mechanics of writing, check out Mignon Fogarty’s The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl — you’ll learn a new tip for great writing every day. This isn’t just the best way to learn how to write better, it’ll will help you spot and avoid over-used words in your writing.

I promised a reader in the comments section of 5 Over-Used Words and Phrases for Writers to Avoid that I’d write this post…and here it is, finally. What’s that you say? The cliché “better late than never” is over-used and boring? It belongs on my “over-used words and phrases in writing” list? If you caught that, you get a gold star! (another tired old clichés. Which, by the way, are three repetitive words).

Ditch these boring words and phrases! Stop using amorphous adverbs and namby-pamby nouns! Delete crummy clichés!

And, here are 51 over-used words and phrases in writing – which I hope helps you become a more successful, confident writer. Compiling this list has certainly opened my eyes to my own weak writing habits.

The following “over-used words in writing” aren’t necessarily on the no-fly list – in fact, writers can use them and get delicious results in many circumstances! These adjectives just need to be used creatively and carefully.

Over-Used Adjectives

A noun is a person, place, or thing – and an adjective should describe the noun in more detail (eg, “successful writers”). Some writing teachers say that adjectives are wholly unnecessary, while others advise writers to use sparingly. It’s up to you, fellow scribes…

  1. Many
  2. Pretty
  3. Nice
  4. Kind
  5. Pleasant
  6. Tall/short/fat/skinny
  7. Big/little
  8. Shimmering
  9. Absolutely
  10. Same exact
  11. Truly unique
  12. Quite
  13. Funny
  14. Many
  15. Incredible
  16. A lot
  17. Bad/good
  18. Roaring
  19. Interesting
  20. Amazing
  21. Any

“As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.” ~ Mark Twain.

Writing tip: Replace your boring over-used tired limp adjectives with strong nouns (eg, instead of “successfully obtains”, use “wins”). Using too many adjectives is a common writing mistake for all writers – not just newbies.

Over-used Adverbs in Writing

A verb contains all the action: writing, editing, getting published, signing copies of your book for fans. An adverb helps describe the action, and can often be unnecessary (see? I used “often be”, which is totally unnecessary. So is “totally”! You see how difficult good writing is?!?!).

  1. Very
  2. So
  3. Kind of
  4. Really
  5. Totally
  6. Actually
  7. Seems
  8. Suddenly
  9. Probably
  10. Could have
  11. Hopefully
  12. Just
  13. Perfect
  14. Viciously
  15. Usually

Fellow scribes, remember that an over-used adverb can be delicious and even juicy when it’s used in a surprising way.

If you’re one of those writers who has a hard time spotting their own over-used words, read 5 Editing Tips That Will Elevate Your Writing.

Over-Used Clichés in Writing

“Any great truth can – and eventually will – be expressed as a cliché…and a cliché is a sure and certain way to dilute an idea.” ~ Solomon Short.

Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Clichés in Your Writing
Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Clichés
  1. Writing on the wall
  2. Cry over spilled milk
  3. Better late than never
  4. Think outside the box
  5. At the end of the day
  6. The bottom line
  7. It’s not rocket science
  8. Easy as pie
  9. Smart as a whip
  10. Taking candy from a baby
  11. Love makes the world go ‘round
  12. Selling like hotcakes
  13. In the nick of time
  14. Go get ‘em, tiger!
  15. When life gives you lemons…

Thank you, AussieExpat (one of my readers), for “keeping it real” and not letting me forget my promise to compile this list of over-used words and phrases in writing! I appreciate you.

For more ways to avoid over-used words, read How to Write Good Sentences – 5 Tips for Making Your Words Flow.

“Play around. Dive into absurdity and write. Take chances. You will succeed if you are fearless of failure.” – Natalie Goldberg.

Fellow scribes, if you have any over-used words in writing, adverbs, adjectives, clichés, or weak phrases to throw into the ring (excuse the cliché), I welcome you with open arms (excuse the cliché).



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24 thoughts on “51 Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Clichés in Your Writing”

  1. Loved this!! I adapted the information (list) for use in my tutoring class (your full credits given). How intriguing that you live in a treehouse!! My dh’s and my dream living! I will enjoy perusing your site more and to read your articles! So glad I found you today!

    1. Great, Tamara, I’m glad this list was helpful. Tutoring is one of the best ways to learn how to write better. In fact, I recently heard a professional travel writer say he keeps his writing skills polished by teaching at writer’s conferences. The more you teach, the more you learn!

  2. Here’s a good test for whether or not an adverb, adjective or noun is over-used: did it immediately spring into your mind? If it did, it’s a cliche. If you have to search for it — or, even better, take time compare it to something that is similar yet different — then it’s a more interesting choice.

    Note the redundancy in my title: “51 Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Clichés in Your Writing.” Over-Used and Cliché are repetitive and unnecessary. 🙂

  3. “SO” as an adverb is “so” overused as to invoke nausea. So, “so” used in “so sorry” , etc should be punishable by major fine and/or imprisonment. So, there!

    1. By the way, Laurie, you look filled with the Spirit, and that’s great.
      The post above was written partially tongue in cheek.

  4. if you have told us the over used adjectives you should also have told us the alternates to them. where can I find alternatives?

  5. Thanks for pointing out my grammatical error, Caren! You’re right – that was an adverb, not an adjective. Well done!

  6. Replace your boring over-used tired limp adjectives with strong nouns (eg, instead of “successfully obtains”, use “wins”

    This example is not an adjective… it’s an adverb modifying a verb…

  7. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks, Shawn! Yes, I’d love to read how you used these overused adverbs, nouns, and cliches in writing…will check it out….

  8. I really enjoyed your post. As an English teacher I am constantly trying to get my students to write at higher levels. I took your list of overused adjectives and wrote a little paragraph using the words. I posted it to my blog if you would like to read it.

  9. Though I totally agree with the bulk of this list, “at the end of the day” (lol) it seems that every phrase we utter these days is quickly becoming obsolete…

    I agree with the other posters, it’s good to have these types of reminders in the back of our heads as we write – it forces more creativity.

    I am waiting on the day that Google becomes a cliche – lol…I guess I’ll probably be the only one waiting on that one, especially since they have taken over the world – lol. GOOGLE FOR PRESIDENT!

  10. Great list. It’s a challenge to find new ways to convey your message, but it can be done.
    My pet hate (as an editor of business and technical writing) is the use of tautologies – free gift, added bonus, raise up, universally loved by all.

  11. What about in dialogue? My characters “totally” say totally quite a lot, and other daggy things 😉 But that’s dialogue, so… I figure it’s “totally” okay. 😛

  12. Robert Earle Howells — Surefire Writing


    Constructive criticism is always helpful. Getting careful editing is one of the overlooked benefits of writing for print. To put it gently, the Web allows a lot of autodidacts to run amok.

    .-= Robert Earle Howells — Surefire Writing´s last blog post ..Freelance Writers: A Caution About Content Farms =-.

  13. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    That’s clever, Manalto — “acutely aware” may be redundant!
    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..Starting a Magazine Writing Career – How to Make Money as a Freelancer =-.

  14. While I’m acutely aware of many typical clichés and overused words, too often they still manage to slither their way into first drafts of my writing! Thank you for the reminder to keep our writing quality high!
    .-= Michelle Salater´s last blog post ..Is Your Advertising as Effective as It Should Be? =-.

  15. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments, all.

    No offense taken, Robert Earle Howells…you’re one of my favorite scribes (er, I mean wordsmiths), and I’m always happy to experience feedback from fellow writerly folk 🙂

    Do you ever feel that constructive or even negative feedback is more helpful than positive? I wish I had more constructive criticism of my writing — my Reader’s Digest editor was GREAT at that.

    Anyway, thanks for being here!

    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..Starting a Magazine Writing Career – How to Make Money as a Freelancer =-.

  16. Robert Earle Howells — Surefire Writing

    Not bad…er, I mean, not despicable.

    I’d add “beautiful” to the adjectives and “experience” to the verbs, as used in so many travel-magazine headlines.

    And no offense, but I’d also banish the word “scribe” along with “wordsmith.”

  17. Great list! I try and make a point of not using these. The cliches are easy enough to avoid. It’s those adjective and adverbs that require more conscious writing. Thanks for posting!

  18. For me, the disclaimer at the front of this list says it all. Use these sparingly/creatively and you’ll probably be okay. Some writing is rife with these and that makes for a difficult read.

    .-= George Angus´s last blog post ..How To Get Your Expectations Met When Outsourcing Work To A New Writer =-.