50 Dead Words: Reviving Your Writing from Overused Phrases

In writing, vibrancy and creativity are key.

Yet, often we find ourselves trapped in the monotony of overused words, draining the life out of our prose. This article, from my own journey as a writer, aims to shine a light on these ‘dead words’ and offer fresh alternatives to reinvigorate your writing.

What are Dead Words?

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Blog post image with 'DEAD WORDS' against a word collage
I made this image with AI Dead Words

Dead words are phrases or words that have become so overused in writing and everyday language that they have lost their impact.

They are the clichés, the tired adjectives, and the vague verbs that make our writing seem dull and unoriginal.

As a writer, I’ve learned the hard way that relying on these words can make my work feel lifeless.

That’s why we need to go over the 50 biggest dead words you’ll want to avoid.

50 Biggest Dead Words Explained

So, let’s explore 50 of these dead words, understand why they’re dead, and discover vibrant alternatives to use instead.

1. Very

Why ‘Very’ is Dead: ‘Very’ is a prime example of a dead word. It’s often used to intensify adjectives or verbs but ends up diluting the intended effect. This adverb has become so commonplace that it’s almost invisible in prose, adding nothing but fluff.

In my experience, ‘very’ can often be eliminated without losing meaning, or better yet, replaced with a stronger, more descriptive word.

  • Alternatives:
    • Extremely
    • Exceptionally
    • Remarkably
    • Profoundly

2. Things

Why ‘Things’ is Dead: ‘Things’ is a vague word that lacks descriptiveness. It’s a placeholder that we often use when we can’t think of a more specific term.

In my writing, I’ve noticed that replacing ‘things’ with more precise words adds clarity and interest to my sentences.

  • Alternatives:
    • Objects
    • Items
    • Belongings
    • Artifacts

3. Good

Why ‘Good’ is Dead: ‘Good’ is an adjective that is so overused it has become meaningless. It’s a generic way of expressing approval or positivity but fails to convey the specifics of what makes something worthy of praise.

In my revisions, swapping ‘good’ for more descriptive adjectives always enriches my writing.

  • Alternatives:
    • Excellent
    • Superb
    • Outstanding
    • Impressive

4. Bad

Why ‘Bad’ is Dead: Similar to ‘good’, ‘bad’ is an overly simplistic adjective that does little to convey the depth of negativity or disapproval.

In my writing, I’ve found that being more specific about what makes something ‘bad’ adds depth and clarity.

  • Alternatives:
    • Terrible
    • Horrible
    • Dreadful
    • Atrocious

5. Said

Why ‘Said’ is Dead: While ‘said’ is a useful dialogue tag, it can become repetitive and lifeless when overused. In my narrative writing, varying dialogue tags or using action beats in place of ‘said’ can make conversations more dynamic and interesting.

  • Alternatives:
    • Whispered
    • Exclaimed
    • Murmured
    • Uttered

6. Walk

Why ‘Walk’ is Dead: ‘Walk’ is a basic verb that describes movement but lacks flavor. In my descriptive passages, using more specific verbs to describe how a character moves can add layers to their personality and mood.

  • Alternatives:
    • Stroll
    • March
    • Stride
    • Saunter

7. Look

Why ‘Look’ is Dead: ‘Look’ is a common verb that often feels inadequate in conveying the depth of observation or the manner in which someone views something.

In my work, replacing ‘look’ with more descriptive verbs can paint a clearer picture of a scene or character.

  • Alternatives:
    • Gaze
    • Glance
    • Peek
    • Observe

8. Happy

Why ‘Happy’ is Dead: ‘Happy’ is a generic term for a positive emotion, but it fails to capture the range or intensity of happiness. In my storytelling, using more specific terms helps to convey the character’s emotions more vividly.

  • Alternatives:
    • Joyful
    • Elated
    • Content
    • Ecstatic

9. Sad

Why ‘Sad’ is Dead: Like ‘happy’, ‘sad’ is a basic term for a negative emotion that often falls short in expressing the depth of sadness.

In my writing, exploring more nuanced words can provide a deeper understanding of a character’s emotional state.

  • Alternatives:
    • Mournful
    • Heartbroken
    • Despondent
    • Melancholic

10. Nice

Why ‘Nice’ is Dead: ‘Nice’ is an adjective that has become so overused it’s almost meaningless. It’s a bland way of describing something pleasant or agreeable.

In my experience, opting for more specific adjectives not only enriches the description but also sharpens the image in the reader’s mind.

  • Alternatives:
    • Pleasant
    • Delightful
    • Charming
    • Amiable

11. Great

Why ‘Great’ is Dead: ‘Great’ is a word that sounds impressive but often lacks substance. It’s so broadly used that it fails to convey what is actually great about something.

In my writing, I’ve found that using more descriptive terms not only adds clarity but also engages the reader more effectively.

  • Alternatives:
    • Magnificent
    • Exceptional
    • Outstanding
    • Remarkable

12. Funny

Why ‘Funny’ is Dead: The word ‘funny’ is a generic descriptor for humor but doesn’t capture the essence or type of humor involved.

In my comedic writing, I’ve learned that specifying the nature of the humor makes the text more engaging and vivid.

  • Alternatives:
    • Hilarious
    • Amusing
    • Comical
    • Witty

13. Really

Why ‘Really’ is Dead: ‘Really’ is an intensifier that’s often used unnecessarily. It can make statements feel exaggerated or insincere.

In my experience, removing ‘really’ or replacing it with a more impactful word often strengthens the sentence.

  • Alternatives:
    • Truly
    • Absolutely
    • Genuinely
    • Indeed

14. Got

Why ‘Got’ is Dead: ‘Got’ is a catch-all verb that can often be replaced with more precise verbs. It’s vague and can make writing feel lazy or unclear.

In my editing process, I always try to replace ‘got’ with a verb that more accurately describes the action.

  • Alternatives:
    • Acquired
    • Obtained
    • Received
    • Secured

15. Like

Why ‘Like’ is Dead: While useful, ‘like’ is often overused in comparisons or as a filler word. It can make prose sound casual or imprecise.

In my more formal or descriptive writing, I aim to use more precise terms or vary my sentence structure to avoid overreliance on ‘like’.

  • Alternatives:
    • Similar to
    • Comparable to
    • Resembling
    • Such as

16. Amazing

Why ‘Amazing’ is Dead: ‘Amazing’ is a word that’s meant to convey awe, but its overuse has rendered it lackluster. In my work, I try to capture the specific aspect that makes something amazing, using a more descriptive adjective.

  • Alternatives:
    • Astonishing
    • Breathtaking
    • Marvelous
    • Stupendous

17. Always

Why ‘Always’ is Dead: ‘Always’ can be an exaggeration and often doesn’t accurately reflect reality. In writing, using more nuanced phrases can provide a more accurate and believable description of frequency.

  • Alternatives:
    • Frequently
    • Consistently
    • Often
    • Habitually

18. Never

Why ‘Never’ is Dead: Similar to ‘always’, ‘never’ is an absolute term that can lack nuance.

I’ve found that exploring the circumstances in which something might happen, instead of using ‘never’, adds depth and realism.

  • Alternatives:
    • Rarely
    • Seldom
    • Hardly ever
    • Infrequently

19. Big

Why ‘Big’ is Dead: ‘Big’ is a basic adjective that fails to capture the scale or significance of size. In descriptive passages, using more specific size-related adjectives helps paint a clearer and more vivid picture.

  • Alternatives:
    • Huge
    • Massive
    • Gigantic
    • Enormous

20. Small

Why ‘Small’ is Dead: Like ‘big’, ‘small’ is a simplistic term for size. It lacks descriptiveness and can make writing feel generic. In my work, I’ve found that specifying the type of smallness can greatly enhance the imagery.

  • Alternatives:
    • Tiny
    • Petite
    • Compact
    • Diminutive

21. Fast

Why ‘Fast’ is Dead: The word ‘fast’ is a simple descriptor of speed but often lacks excitement and specificity. In my action scenes, I’ve discovered that using more evocative words to describe speed adds thrill and clarity to the narrative.

  • Alternatives:
    • Swift
    • Rapid
    • Speedy
    • Quick

22. Slow

Why ‘Slow’ is Dead: ‘Slow’ is the antonym of fast but suffers from the same issue of being too generic.

In descriptive writing, specifying the nature of slowness adds depth and imagery.

  • Alternatives:
    • Gradual
    • Leisurely
    • Sluggish
    • Deliberate

23. Hard

Why ‘Hard’ is Dead: ‘Hard’ is a common adjective used to describe difficulty or texture, but it’s often too vague. In my experience, more specific words can greatly enhance the understanding of the challenge or texture being described.

  • Alternatives:
    • Difficult
    • Challenging
    • Stiff
    • Rigid

24. Easy

Why ‘Easy’ is Dead: Just like ‘hard’, ‘easy’ is a word that’s often used to describe something not challenging, but it fails to convey the ease’s nature or extent.

Replacing ‘easy’ with more descriptive words has often made the text more engaging.

  • Alternatives:
    • Simple
    • Effortless
    • Straightforward
    • Uncomplicated

25. Interesting

Why ‘Interesting’ is Dead: ‘Interesting’ is a word we often use to describe something that captures our attention, but it doesn’t convey what makes it interesting.

In my articles and stories, I try to be more specific about why something is captivating.

  • Alternatives:
    • Fascinating
    • Intriguing
    • Captivating
    • Engaging

26. Important

Why ‘Important’ is Dead: ‘Important’ is a word that signifies significance but often falls flat in conveying why something is important. In writing, explaining the significance or replacing ‘important’ with a more impactful word has proven more effective.

  • Alternatives:
    • Crucial
    • Vital
    • Significant
    • Essential

27. Different

Why ‘Different’ is Dead: ‘Different’ is a vague term that fails to specify how something is distinct from others. Using words that describe the nature of the difference makes the text more informative and clear.

  • Alternatives:
    • Distinct
    • Diverse
    • Unique
    • Unusual

28. A lot

Why ‘A lot’ is Dead: ‘A lot’ is a phrase used to indicate quantity but is imprecise and overused. In my professional writing, quantifying or specifying the extent of something adds precision and clarity.

  • Alternatives:
    • Numerous
    • Many
    • Abundant
    • Copious

29. Kind of

Why ‘Kind of’ is Dead: ‘Kind of’ is a phrase that often weakens the statement it precedes. It’s a filler that can make writing sound uncertain or vague. In my experience, removing it or using more definitive language strengthens the prose.

  • Alternatives:
    • Somewhat
    • Rather
    • Partially
    • To some extent

30. Literally

Why ‘Literally’ is Dead: ‘Literally’ is frequently misused in modern language, often to emphasize something that’s metaphorical, not literal.

It’s a good idea to ensure its correct use or find a more suitable word to avoid confusion.

  • Alternatives:
    • Actually
    • Precisely
    • In fact
    • Veritably

31. Awesome

Why ‘Awesome’ is Dead: ‘Awesome’ once meant something inspiring awe, but now it’s so overused that it often means little more than ‘nice’ or ‘cool’. In my creative work, I strive for words that accurately capture the grandeur or impressiveness intended by ‘awesome’.

  • Alternatives:
    • Majestic
    • Breathtaking
    • Spectacular
    • Stunning

32. Basically

Why ‘Basically’ is Dead: ‘Basically’ is a word often used to simplify complex ideas, but it can make explanations sound oversimplified or vague.

I find that diving directly into the explanation without this qualifier is more effective.

  • Alternatives:
    • Fundamentally
    • Essentially
    • Primarily
    • In essence

33. Clearly

Why ‘Clearly’ is Dead: ‘Clearly’ is used to emphasize the obviousness of a statement, but it can come off as condescending or dismissive.

I prefer to present facts or arguments without this qualifier to maintain an objective tone.

  • Alternatives:
    • Evidently
    • Obviously
    • Undoubtedly
    • Plainly

34. Maybe

Why ‘Maybe’ is Dead: ‘Maybe’ expresses uncertainty but can make writing sound indecisive.

In my professional correspondence, I’ve found that being more definitive, even when expressing possibilities, is more effective.

  • Alternatives:
    • Perhaps
    • Possibly
    • Potentially
    • Conceivably

35. Just

Why ‘Just’ is Dead: ‘Just’ is often used to minimize things but can make statements sound trivial or dismissive. Try to avoid ‘just’ to give every element its due importance.

  • Alternatives:
    • Merely
    • Only
    • Simply
    • Purely

36. Really

Why ‘Really’ is Dead: Though ‘really’ is a common intensifier, it’s often unnecessary. In my editing process, I’ve noticed that removing ‘really’ or replacing it with a stronger adjective or adverb often makes the sentence more powerful.

  • Alternatives:
    • Truly
    • Absolutely
    • Indeed
    • Genuinely

37. Stuff

Why ‘Stuff’ is Dead: ‘Stuff’ is a vague, catch-all term that lacks specificity. In descriptive writing, using more precise nouns gives the reader a clearer picture of what I’m referring to.

  • Alternatives:
    • Items
    • Materials
    • Objects
    • Possessions

38. Then

Why ‘Then’ is Dead: ‘Then’ is frequently used in narrative to denote time sequence, but can become repetitive.

In storytelling, varying temporal indicators makes the narrative flow more naturally.

  • Alternatives:
    • Afterwards
    • Subsequently
    • Next
    • Thereafter

39. Unique

Why ‘Unique’ is Dead: ‘Unique’ is meant to convey one-of-a-kind, but its overuse has diluted its impact. I’ve learned to show how something is unique rather than simply stating it.

  • Alternatives:
    • Distinctive
    • Unparalleled
    • Singular
    • Unmatched

40. Utilize

Why ‘Utilize’ is Dead: ‘Utilize’ is often used in place of ‘use’ to sound more sophisticated, but it can come off as pretentious.

Simplicity often trumps complexity for clarity’s sake.

  • Alternatives:
    • Use
    • Employ
    • Operate
    • Implement

41. Actually

Why ‘Actually’ is Dead: ‘Actually’ is often used to correct or contradict previous statements but can come across as condescending or redundant. In my writing, I’ve found that getting straight to the fact without this qualifier is more effective and respectful.

  • Alternatives:
    • In fact
    • Truly
    • Indeed
    • Realistically

42. Basically

Why ‘Basically’ is Dead: Though ‘basically’ is used to simplify explanations, it often signals an oversimplification or a hesitation to delve into details.

I prefer to omit ‘basically’ for clearer, more direct explanations.

  • Alternatives:
    • Essentially
    • Fundamentally
    • In essence
    • At its core

43. Generally

Why ‘Generally’ is Dead: ‘Generally’ is used to indicate a common or usual state, but it can make statements sound vague and non-committal.

Being specific about the conditions or contexts improves clarity and strength of argument.

  • Alternatives:
    • Usually
    • Typically
    • Commonly
    • As a rule

44. Obviously

Why ‘Obviously’ is Dead: ‘Obviously’ can come off as dismissive or condescending, as it implies that the point should be clear to everyone,

Avoid ‘obviously’ to maintain a tone of respect and inclusivity.

  • Alternatives:
    • Clearly
    • Evidently
    • Plainly
    • Undoubtedly

45. Seriously

Why ‘Seriously’ is Dead: Used to emphasize sincerity or surprise, ‘seriously’ can often sound overly dramatic or insincere.

I find it more effective to let the context and content convey seriousness without this qualifier.

  • Alternatives:
    • Sincerely
    • Genuinely
    • Earnestly
    • Truly

46. Totally

Why ‘Totally’ is Dead: ‘Totally’ is an intensifier that’s often more colloquial than informative. You might want to use more precise adverbs that don’t dilute the statement’s credibility.

  • Alternatives:
    • Completely
    • Entirely
    • Absolutely
    • Wholly

47. Ultimately

Why ‘Ultimately’ is Dead: While ‘ultimately’ is used to signify a final point or conclusion, it can be overused and become meaningless.

I recommend that you use more impactful words to denote finality or conclusion.

  • Alternatives:
    • Finally
    • In conclusion
    • In the end
    • Lastly

48. Very

Why ‘Very’ is Dead: ‘Very’ is a common intensifier but often adds little to the meaning of a sentence.

I’ve found in my editing work that stronger adjectives or adverbs can replace ‘very’ + [adjective/adverb] combinations for a more concise and powerful statement.

  • Alternatives:
    • Extremely
    • Highly
    • Exceptionally
    • Particularly

49. Whatever

Why ‘Whatever’ is Dead: ‘Whatever’ can indicate indifference or a lack of specificity, which can make writing seem dismissive or vague.

In my narrative writing, I choose more descriptive words to convey the intended meaning more precisely.

  • Alternatives:
    • Regardless
    • Any
    • Whichever
    • No matter what

50. Huge

Why ‘Huge’ is Dead: ‘Huge’ is often used to describe something large but lacks descriptive quality.

Opt for words that give a better sense of scale and impact.

  • Alternatives:
    • Enormous
    • Gigantic
    • Immense
    • Colossal

Frequently Asked Questions About Dead Words

This FAQ section addresses some of the most common questions about dead words.

What Is a Dead Word Story?

Dead Word Story refers to a narrative or piece of writing that intentionally avoids using dead words.

The purpose is to encourage creativity and expand vocabulary.

Writers challenge themselves to replace overused, vague, or unimpactful words with more descriptive and vibrant alternatives. This practice not only improves the quality of the story but also sharpens the writer’s awareness of word choices, leading to more engaging and expressive writing.

It’s a great exercise for writers of all levels to refine their craft.

What Is a Dead Word Worksheet?

A Dead Language or Word Worksheet is a tool often used in educational settings to help students identify and replace overused words in their writing.

These worksheets typically list common dead words and provide spaces for students to write down more creative alternatives.

This exercise helps in building a richer vocabulary and encourages students to think more critically about their word choices.

Teachers use these worksheets to make students more mindful of their language and to improve the overall quality of their writing.

Is It Ever OK to Use a Dead Word?

Yes, it is sometimes okay to use dead language.

While it’s beneficial to avoid them in order to create more vivid and precise writing, there are instances where a dead word might be the most suitable choice.

For example, in informal communication or when a simple expression is needed for clarity, using a dead word can be effective.

The key is to be mindful of the context and purpose of your writing.

Understanding when and why to use certain words is a crucial part of developing as a writer.

How Can Identifying Dead Words Improve Writing?

Identifying dead words in your writing is a crucial step towards improving clarity, precision, and engagement.

By recognizing and replacing these overused or vague words, you force yourself to think more critically about your word choices, leading to more expressive and impactful writing.

This practice helps in developing a richer vocabulary and fosters creativity.

It also enhances the reader’s experience, as they are presented with writing that is vivid and evocative, rather than dull and generic.

Are Dead Words the Same in All Types of Writing?

No, dead words can vary depending on the type of writing.

What is considered a dead word in a creative narrative might not be so in a technical report. For instance, words like ‘very’ or ‘great’ might be dead in a novel but could be suitable in business or academic writing where simplicity and clarity are prioritized.

The context, audience, and purpose of the writing play a significant role in determining whether a word is ‘dead’.

Therefore, it’s important to consider these factors when deciding which words to avoid.

Here is a funny but evocative video about dead words:

YouTube Video by TeachUpsideDown – Dead Words

Final Thoughts: Dead Words

Understanding and addressing dead words is an ongoing process in the journey of writing. It’s about balancing creativity with clarity, and precision with simplicity.

Read More About Words