Yesterday, I wrote about sentence structure and how you can strengthen your writing by avoiding the word “it” when it’s not clearly taking the place of a noun mentioned beforehand. Among tons of great comments on the post, one really stuck out to me. Natasha, who runs a blog at http://betweenthebinding.com, noted that, “overusing ‘it’ really makes a difference in someone’s writing. I’m going to be even more conscious of word usage now. I feel the same way about ‘only’ ‘like’ and ‘just.’”
I want to talk today about using only and just, and also simply, because Natasha has a great point when she mentions OVERUSING these words.
You see, these are fine words. They’re synonyms, and more or less interchangeable (when you use just as an adverb). You can certainly throw them into a sentence on occasion. The big problem comes from overusing them. They’re tough to use in moderation, and once you form a habit of using such adverbs, that habit’s difficult to break. You can quickly find yourself with an infestation of these buggers, locating them multiple times per paragraph. (I’m serious. I’ve seen it.) They’ll spread everywhere…. your emails, your fiction, your blog…. Nothing you write will be safe from the swarm.
Besides the temptation to overdo things and to hoard these words in your precious paragraphs, you’ll find another problem concerning only, just, and simply. It’s not that it’s wrong to use them. It isn’t. Many times, it’s just unnecessary.
Everyone knows that one of the major tasks of editing is cutting redundancies. Oftentimes, the adverbs in question–which writers think are adding clarity and emphasis to a sentence–are just adding clutter. Here are some examples:
- She wanted to keep dating James, but juggling the relationship along with her job and his baggage was just too difficult.
- I’m fine. I’m just tired, but once I get a cup of coffee I’ll be more alert.
- I don’t mean to criticize. I’m only saying that we can make things run faster, even though they’re going well already.
Look, now, at how unnecessary the adverbs are:
- She wanted to keep dating James, but juggling the relationship along with her job and his baggage was too difficult. (Too there tells the reader everything s/he needs to know.
- I’m fine. I’m tired, but once I get a cup of coffee I’ll be more alert. (It’s clear this person is tired enough that the fatigue visible to other people…. Saying s/he is “fine” implies the “just” in “just tired”).
- I don’t mean to criticize. I’m saying that we can make things run faster, even though they’re going well already. (Maybe this is just me, but this feels less defensive in tone without the “only.”)