Thursday Thoughts: More Words to Avoid in Your Writing and Speech

26 May

7: 51 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello everyone. I hope you are well as we race headlong toward another weekend. Apparently several of you are enjoying the cinquain form. Maybe I shall have to revisit it occasionally when I hear you groaning over yet another complex form which requires metre, or rhyme, or counting syllables [which isn’t too bad with cinquains, is it?].

We are nearing the end of the words to avoid series, but have no fear. After a short break in focus, I shall take up mis-usages of language. There are many, people.

Today I want to talk briefly about the conditional tense, which has become the default tense in student writing, and therefore has probably crept into some of yours. In almost all cases where you find yourself using could, would, or should, check yourselves. Do you mean to say can, will, shall?

Should is not such a problem. It is not as commonly used as the other two and is clearer as to when to use it: Should I run a mile today? The question implies that you know you should, or can, run the mile, but aren’t feeling pepped to do so. The response: I should, implies you know you are supposed to, but still feel hesitant as to whether you will. The response: I shall run the mile today, indicates a future outcome; and saying I will run the mile today adds determination to that future outcome.

The real problems come with could and would. As conditional verbs, they require a condition, to be used correctly. A condition is a situation or circumstance. If a certain condition is true, then a particular result happens.The –oulds come in when there exists an uncertainty, a but.

Condition certain        If you do not hand in your homework, you will fail.
Condition likely           If the forecasters are right, it will rain today.

For those two conditions there are no buts. Now look at these two:

Condition unlikely       If I won the lottery I would take a round the world cruise.
Condition impossible  If I lived forever, I would travel to every country.

These last two are followed by an imaginary but: but it’s unlikely I will win the lottery, but it’s impossible I will live forever. These are known as unreal conditionals and are what we are interested in. The -oulds are used in situations unlikely to happen, therefore imaginary.

If a situation is real, likely, possible, use can and will. You will find that is most of the time.

Another short one [for me]. Next week we shall look at a miscellaneous group that I will address more from the point of view that the words are overused and unneeded, therefore clutter otherwise clean sentences, than that they are incorrect.

If you think someone will enjoy this, please click the buttons below. Remember to ask if you have questions about anything I have written. I will see you tomorrow for this week’s roundup of prompts and exercises from other sites; on Tuesday for a non-form, relaxing prompt; and on Thursday for the last of the words to avoid and links to a couple of sites on the same subject.

Happy writing everyone.


Posted by on 26/05/2011 in poetry, writing


Tags: , ,

9 responses to “Thursday Thoughts: More Words to Avoid in Your Writing and Speech

  1. Josephine Faith Gibbs

    26/05/2011 at 2:39 pm

    I do appreciate these concise lessons. Striving to assimilate and apply them. Thank you.

  2. margo roby

    26/05/2011 at 2:51 pm

    Josephine, once you start your ear will take over and signal you when needed. Mine waves flags madly should one of the no-no words float across my brain waves [they try to sneak back in].

  3. anjum wasim dar

    26/05/2011 at 3:29 pm

    I will rid myself
    of the twins

    maybe I will
    I know I can

    perhaps I should
    If I could

    they will disturb
    if they stay

    and will easily
    get their way

    My Teacher says
    I should
    It would be better
    this way

    what will I do
    without the 2

    maybe I will know
    when I let them go

    with all these
    doubts will I?

    Yes I will
    Yes I can

    For someone
    who will not like

    the twins will disturb
    and I will stop and curb

    the urge to write
    in black or white
    less of poems
    and more of prose

    I will keep the heart
    and the red rose,

  4. margo roby

    26/05/2011 at 4:07 pm

    But keep responding to my posts with poems, Anjum! Because those you seem able to keep focused, which is interesting and I am enjoying your poetic responses.

  5. anjum wasim dar

    26/05/2011 at 4:19 pm

    M so good to hear from you-my Principal in the training college always said that I had a tendency to get distracted , despite all the work I managed to complete prepare and present.
    We all wait and love to receive a response to what we express-don’t we M?

  6. Annette

    26/05/2011 at 11:31 pm

    I finally finished my cascade poem and I’m pleased with the result. I like all your challenges — some just take longer to do.

    • margo roby

      27/05/2011 at 8:11 am

      If the result is that I get to see a result, Annette, then you may take as long as you like!

  7. vivinfrance

    27/05/2011 at 6:29 am

    Ah, the conditional: all cut and dried in French – imperfect plus conditional: if I were rich I would buy a house. – Si j’étais riche j’achéterais une maison. I have a polyglot Danish friend who argues that the English use of would/could/should/might and others are totally outdated and we have some lovely battles back and forth with examples.

    I would if I could, but I can’t!

  8. margo roby

    27/05/2011 at 8:10 am

    I studied French for seven years, so have no problem with the conditional and where and how to use it, but oh, my students in secondary school. I’m not sure they knew will and can.
    You may throw French at me any time, Viv! It’s lovely to read it, although I’m to rusty to respond in it.


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