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Empty Phrases

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Empty Phrases

English language learners often struggle with connecting ideas in a natural-sounding, smoothly-flowing manner. The English language’s emphasis on syntax can make constructing sentences that are both varied and grammatically correct challenging. Modeling your use of the language on that of friends and colleagues who are native speakers can be helpful. As we saw in the “crutch words” English lesson, however, native speakers tend to rely on a variety of widely-used but unnecessary words and phrases. One of the most widespread examples of this is empty phrases. At best, these phrases add words to a sentence without adding meaning. At worst, they distract from and undermine the topic of a sentence.

Empty Phrases in a Nutshell

At their core, empty phrases are the same as saying, “the topic that I’m going to write about is…” Of course, this is redundant. You don’t need to introduce that you’re going to discuss a particular topic; you just need to introduce that topic. While most empty phrases are not this obvious, they are all this unnecessary. Here are some common types of empty phrases that native speakers employ.

Stating That Something is Your Opinion

It is my opinion that…

I feel that…

It seems to me that…

I truly believe that…

All these phrases do is distract from your position. You don’t need to state that something is your opinion unless you have been writing objectively about a topic and want to include how you personally feel about that topic. Even so, there are better ways to accomplish this than with an empty phrase.

Unnecessary Qualifiers

It likely holds true that…

This empty phrase and others like it have a couple of problems. First, it doesn’t indicate by what standard “it” holds true. Second, qualifiers such as “likely” make you sound unsure of your position.

For all intents and purposes…

By and large…

For the most part…

This is the same as saying “in every practical sense.” All it does is weaken a definitive statement by making it sound less emphatic.

Implied Questions

As it is often said…

It has been said that…

These empty phrases invite the reader to ask “said by whom?” If you have a specific source, you should state it instead of using an empty phrase. If you are speaking in a general sense, you should avoid using empty phrases that encourage the reader to speculate about the source of the information.

Eliminating Empty Phrases

Here is an example of a paragraph filled with empty phrases:

For the most part, human beings are irrevocably shaped by their childhoods. Each of us has unique experiences during our youth. I believe, for all intents and purposes, that these experiences fundamentally influence who we are. We internalize these experiences and take them with us throughout our lives. By and large, a person who grows up in extreme poverty develops a very different outlook on life than a person who spends his or her childhood in the lap of luxury. It likely holds true that, even if an individual’s situation changes, he or she will continue to be affected to some degree. My grandmother spent her early years struggling to survive by saving and reusing whatever she could. Despite becoming a financially successful adult, she continued to wash and reuse sandwich bags and to sell back empty cans for five cents each. This is what I truly believe.

Here is the same paragraph with the empty phrases removed:

Human beings are irrevocably shaped by their childhoods. Each of us has unique experience during out youth that fundamentally influence who we are. We internalize these experiences and take them with us throughout our lives. A person who grows up in extreme poverty develops a very different outlook on life than a person who spends his or her childhood in the lap of luxury. Even if an individual’s situation changes, he or she will continue to be affected to some degree. My grandmother spent her early years struggling to survive by saving and reusing whatever she could. Despite becoming a financially successful adult, she continued to wash and reuse sandwich bags and to sell back empty cans for five cents each.

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