Unnecessary Words

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short or that he avoid all detail ... but that every word tell.” (Strunk and White 23)

All authorities on the style of English prose agree that good writing is concise (Pinkham 1). Wordiness happens when we strive to reach length requirement or clear our thoughts. As to Chinese students, whose English writing is constantly under the influence of their mother tongue, wordiness results mainly from Chinglish, i.e. English with Chinese characteristics. A word-by-word translation of a Chinese text will be full of superfluous words. To achieve conciseness, these words that perform no useful function in a sentence should be eliminated. Chinese texts of examples cited below will also be given for further comparison.


1. Unnecessary Words
  • 1.1 Unnecessary Nouns and Verbs
  • 1.2 Unnecessary Modifiers
  • 1.3 Redundant Twins
2. References
3. External Links
4. Examples of concise writings
5. More on Simplicity

1. Unnecessary words

1.1 Unnecessary nouns and verbs
Many analogies and verb-object phrases, though vivid in Chinese, are unnecessary in English for they contribute nothing to the sense or can be replace by plain verbs.

to accelerate the pace of economic reform
  • The verb "accelerate" conveys the meaning of "increase the pace of". So "the pace" here should be deleted.

promoting the cause of peaceful reunification
reforms in the sphere of economy
  • The redundancy of these category nouns are self-evident as "pink in color", "large in size" and "round in shape".

to conduct a careful examination
until China realizes industrial modernization
  • These verb-object phrases are so common in Chinese that we can hardly realize that these verbs are meaningless and should be replaced by verb forms of their object. The revised are as follows:
to examine carefully
until China modernizes its industry

1.2 Unnecessary modifications
We can see self-evident modifiers used through out a China Daily coverage. They are acceptable in Chinese but redundant in English.

to make a proper readjustment of
  • No one will intentionally make improper readjustment. This sentence can be revised as "to readjust". More examples are listed below.

to appropriately raise the purchasing prices of grain and cotton
to ensure adequate continuity for our policies of reform and opening up

Here's a list of some words and phrases that can often be pruned away to make sentences clearer
  • kind of
  • sort of
  • type of
  • really
  • basically
  • for all intents and purposes
  • definitely
  • actually
  • generally
  • individual
  • specific
  • particular
[Cited from Purdue Online Writing Lab]

1.3 Redundant twins
Literal translation of the above phrase is "simple but not easy" . As a famous slogan of Lilanz Group , it is officially translated into "simple yet sophisticated". Duplications of two words close in meaning are used in Chinese to "avoid ambiguity, to reinforce meaning, to provide balance and symmetry, or just to satisfy the ear" (Pinkham 63). These pairs imply each other and result in redundancy. Listed below are some examples cited.

  • past memories
  • various differences
  • each individual ___
  • basic fundamentals
  • true facts
  • important essentials
  • future plans
  • terrible tragedy
  • end result
  • final outcome
  • free gift
  • past history
  • unexpected surprise
  • sudden crisis
[Cited from Purdue Online Writing Lab]

  • help and assistance
  • views and opinions
  • sentiments and feelings
  • encourage and promote
  • discuss and debate
  • stir up and incite
  • prudent and cautious
  • fair and equitable
  • firmly and resolutely
  • ceaselessly and unremittingly
[Cited from Pinkham, 63]

2. References

Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. 3rd ed. The Element of Style. New York: Macmillan, 1979. Print.
Pinkham, Joan. The Translator’s Guide to Chinglish. 2000. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 2010. Print.

3. External links

1. Quiz on necessary and unnecessary words [Activities for ESL Students]
2. Eliminating words [Purdue Online Writing Lab]
3. Strategies for Reducing Wordiness [Literacy Education Online]
4. How to Make Sentences Clear and Concise [Writing Center of University of Richmond]
5. Omit unnecessary words [Plain Language]

4. Examples

Original sentence I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.Patrick Henry
Wordy version 1
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to predict on the basis of my limited information as to the predilections of the public, what the citizenry at large will regard as action commensurate with the present provocations, but after arduous consideration I personally feel so intensely and irrevocably committed to the position of social, political, and economic independence, that rather than submit to foreign and despotic control which is anathema to me, I will make the ultimate sacrifice of which humanity is capable--under the aegis of personal honor, ideological conviction, and existential commitment, I will sacrifice my own mortal existence.

Wordy version 2
Liberty is a very important thing for a person to have. Most people--at least the people I've talked to or that other people have told me about--know this and therefore are very anxious to preserve their liberty. Of course I can't be absolutely sure about what other folks are going to do in this present crisis, what with all these threats and everything, but I've made up my mind that I'm going to fight because liberty is really a very important thing to me; at least that's the way I fell about it.

5. More on Simplicity

Thanks for your time. This section is aimed to be relaxing while inspiring. I hope you will like it.

The universe is simple and human beings love simplicity. Google "the answer to life the universe and everything" and you will get the answer below.
[For more information 42 In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy]

Fictional and too far-fetched? Then have you ever thought why iPhone, a one-button device, is loved all around the world? It is because of the Retina Display, App Store or simply because people love the fruit apple so they love the Steve Apple? I believe that people are crazy about Apple for it's simplicity. While cellphones of Nokia, Motorola and Blackberry have 9, even 30 buttons, Apple capture the market with this single-button iPhone. So it is with the case of iPod and iTouch. People love simplicity. Now please think about another question. Besides Nave SEALs and Swiss Army knife fans, will anyone would like to buy this iWhatever below?