Crutch words are filler words used most times for emphasis but do not add meaning to your sentence/paragraph. We use these words all the time when we speak. Apart from emphasis, they support our speech when we need to think about what we’re saying or if we are unsure of what to say. It comes so naturally, most times we are unaware when we use them.
- I felt like I was victimized, you know?
- He literally walked out on me.
- Well, I thought we might go out.
How can these words affect your narrative?
In casual dialogue it’s fine, but overuse of these words can be annoying to the one listening… imagine a reader coming across them in your narrative.
How do you identify crutch words when editing your manuscript? As you read through your work, have that red pen in hand and underline words or phrases repeated, overused or appear redundant. Example:
- Amanda just had to cry. How could he just leave her, just when she most needed him?
- Paul shrugged his shoulders.
Are crutch words always bad grammar and should be removed from your manuscript? If you want to reduce your word count, identifying and removing crutch words can help. Example:
He seemed a bit weary. – He looked tired.
But before you edit, ask yourself: Does this word/phrase add meaning to the sentence/paragraph? How does it affect the overall tone and style of my writing? Does it create redundancy or is it needed in the sentence?
Below is a list of crutch words you may come across in your narrative. Remember though, don’t randomly remove them. First, see how it fits into your sentence and whether it adds to or takes away from your point, description or setting.
- almost – like – seriously
- actually – literally – that
- a lot – obviously – totally
- basically – quite – very
- definitely – rather
- honestly – really
- just – seem/seemed
seriously did not know how to respond.
The driver was unhurt, but the passenger was seriously injured.
In the first sentence, there is no need for the word ‘seriously’. It does not add to or enhance the meaning of the sentence. It’s used as a crutch word and therefore should be removed. In the second sentence however, ‘seriously’ tells the reader the extent of the injuries the passenger suffered. Anti-adverb writers will say that it should be removed, that the reader should not be told ‘how’ an action took place. Remember though, injuries can also be minor so using the adverb ‘seriously’ in this sentence, is appropriate.
Feel free to share your thoughts on crutch words in the comments below.