Never use a long word where a short one will do

A mistake some new or less experienced writers make is to believe that if they want to appear clever they should avoid short words and use long, pretentious words or phrases which are not part of their normal vocabulary. But you should never use a long word where a short one will do.

“The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.” George Eliot

There are of course people who like to show off their erudition, eloquence and intellect by demonstrating their great command of the English language but you should not feel you have to compete with them by using words and phrases you are not comfortable with.

Some of the best literature uses the simplest language (i.e.language that is used and understood by ‘normal’ people) and so don’t try to adopt a style which is unfamiliar and unnatural to you just because you think this is the way to impress your peers and readers.

Think about your reader – use more familiar short words

If you have a clear picture of who your readers are then consider what they would want to read. Do they want to wade through pages and pages of pompous, stilted prose or would they prefer something which is easy to read and, above all, sounds like you?

“Use familiar words – words that your readers will understand, and not words they will have to look up. No advice is more elementary, and no advice is more difficult to accept. When we feel an impulse to use a marvelously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away.” James J. Kilpatrick

Use language and a style you are comfortable with and don’t feel you have to ‘show off’ to get the attention of your readers (they won’t thank you for it).

Never use a long word where a short one will do

Never use a long word where a short one will do is a quote from George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language and it is good advice to follow. Just aim to write simply and well rather than trying to use ‘clever’ words which you are not comfortable with and which risk confusing your readers and making you look a bit desperate.

A search online reveals many examples of longer words and phrases which can be replaced with plain and simple short words – here are just a few for starters:

ascertainfind out, learn
commencestart, begin
implementcarry out, start
in additionalso
in a timely manneron time
incumbent uponmust
pertaining toabout
prior tobefore
terminateend, stop
for the duration ofduring
Never use a long word where a short one will do

2 thoughts on “Never use a long word where a short one will do

  • 04/04/2019 at 03:06

    I’m not a beginner at writing, but I enjoy ongoing learning and review of the craft. I’d love to follow your blog. However, I cannot find the follow button. Help?

    • 09/25/2020 at 11:32

      Hi Steeny, at the bottom of a blog page there a two checkboxes: Notify me of follow-up comments by email and Notify me of new posts by email. You can choose to click in one or both depending on what notifications you want to receive. Rather belated reply sorry but I hope this helps. Cheers Chris


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *