A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

12 Overused Words That Make You Sound Boring

And some snappy alternatives!

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Alphabet letters on wooden scrabble pieces, from above

What’s the word?

Whether you’re an aspiring writer or just someone who uses written correspondences to communicate (which, yes, is most people!), you probably use some of the same words over and over again without even thinking about it. And that can bore your readers—not to mention, it’s just nice to use more words and keep your vocabulary sharp. New vocabulary additions don’t have to be fancy, overcomplicated words that sound pompous, either. Oftentimes they’re just slightly more descriptive synonyms for these basic words we use all the time.

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overused words "very"


“Very” is a handy word, for sure. It instantly ups the intensity of whatever word you’re describing. That movie wasn’t just sad; it was very sad. Your date wasn’t just late; he was very late. There is definitely a time and a place for “very,” and sometimes it just really isn’t necessary to use a flashy synonym. But most of the time, there’s probably a way cooler, punchy adjective that you can substitute for “very [blank]” and not lose meaning—or even strengthen it. Instead of “very clean,” try “immaculate.” Instead of “very hard,” use “arduous.” There’s a very long—ahem, extensive—list of “very” swaps like these at Preply that can help you ditch “very.”

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overused words "said"


This one is a creative writer’s Kryptonite. While you probably don’t use the word “said” much in daily conversation (you’re probably more likely to use the phrase “I was like…”), if you’re writing dialogue for whatever reason, it’s all too easy to fall into the “said” trap. Immediately spruce up your writing by swapping out “said” with the plethora of other words that can describe spoken words. Did your character “mutter” that bit of dialogue or “holler” it? Was she “explaining” something or “asserting” a claim? Varied dialogue verbs can instantly make a story come to life.

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overused words "pretty"


So many things can be “pretty”—which is probably why this word is so common. Using a more exciting variation can help you specify what, exactly, about the thing you’re describing is so appealing. “Exquisite” implies a more refined beauty as well as a little bit of fragility; this one might apply to a fancy vase or extravagant jeweled gown. What about a sunset? That can be “magnificent” or “stunning,” words that imply a more expansive, grand beauty. And as for a person, if you really want to flatter someone, “pretty”‘s probably not gonna do it. How about “ravishing” or “gorgeous”? They’ll make an impression if anything! So will these fun English words we no longer use—but should.

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overused words "like"


No, we’re not talking about the filler word “like,” as in, “This was, like, the greatest day ever!” We’re talking about the verb, “like,” which definitely suffers from overuse. Would the word “admire” apply to whatever you’re talking about? What about “cherish,” or even “revere”? If those convey feelings stronger than yours, maybe “appreciate” or “enjoy” will fit the bill.

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overused words good, great, awesome


These three separate words would seem to indicate an increasing amount of goodness, but they’re used so interchangeably that “awesome” almost never evokes the “overwhelming feeling of reverence [or] admiration” that dictionaries say it should. Rather than falling back on these generic goodness indicators, every now and then try throwing out a “fantastic,” “wonderful,” or “excellent” when “good” just isn’t good enough. If you want your vocabulary to be better than good, try these simple ways to improve your vocabulary in just one day.

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overused words "see"


Yes, it’s a pretty basic biological function that we do without even thinking about it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use different words to make it sound cooler! (The same goes for “look.”) How about “glimpse,” “glance [at],” “peer,” “observe,” or “notice”? Consider “I saw the car coming up the street” versus “I spied the car coming up the street.” Do you *see* the difference? Next time you need to add some excitement to your vocabulary, try out these fancy words that make you sound smart.

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overused words "thing"


Here’s another catch-all word nightmare that can ensnare writers. It’s so temptingly easy to just throw the word “thing” into your writing (or speech!). But if you care about this “thing,” and/or about being precise and specific in your writing, try a little bit harder to use a more exact, descriptive word than “thing.” If you’re actually conveying ignorance about something, “thing-a-ma-bob” and “doohickey” are great alternatives for “thing.” (Plus, they’ll probably get a laugh!)

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overused words "funny"


There are so many different, nuanced types of humor; why shouldn’t we use an equally varied collection of words to describe it, rather than just the catch-all that is “funny”? You’ve got “hilarious,” “riotous,” “amusing,” “witty,” and “sidesplitting” (to name a few), all of which add nuance to whatever it was that made you laugh.

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overused words "nice"


“It was nice!” “Oh, that’s nice!” Instead of really conveying any actual niceness, saying something was “nice” often just implies that you can’t be bothered to say any more about it. Break the “nice” mold with some more descriptive adjectives! Was that walk through the park in beautiful weather “delightful”? Say so! Or, if that seems a little over-the-top, call it “pleasant.” How about that gift you just got? Was it “thoughtful” or “meaningful”? Telling the gifter so will surely make them feel better than if you just say “That’s such a nice gift!” Commenting on someone else’s good news? Tell them it’s “wonderful” or “incredible.”

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overused words "smart"


Here we are again: “Smart” is a catch-all, and intelligence manifests in so many different ways. What’s so “smart” about that person, idea, or concept that you’re talking about? Is it “brilliant”? “Clever”? “Quick-witted”? “Inventive”? A “smart” person has probably been called “smart” countless times, but how many times have they been called “wise” or “ingenious”? And if you want to sound any of the above, make sure to avoid these words and phrases that can make you sound stupid.

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overused words "important"


Just how “important” is the matter? Is it “urgent”? “Crucial”? Or is it relevant enough to be “pressing,” but not quite “critical”? Or is importance minimal, meaning that just calling it “notable” does it justice? There’s a whole range of priorities potentially conveyed by the word “important,” which today we can encounter in any context from funny video–sharing to life-changing announcements.

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overused words "interesting"


This one and “important” kind of go hand in hand, in that they’re long-ish words that begin with “I” that, because they’re longer than monosyllables, sound a bit more impressive. Plus, they can just so easily apply to so many things. Make no mistake—just like “important,” “interesting” is a rather ho-hum word that we kind of just throw into sentences by default. Is the thing-of-interest “fascinating,” or could you settle for “cool”? Is it “engaging” but maybe not quite “mesmerizing”? Again, the word can apply to so much, from a movie twist to a fun fact to a bit of juicy gossip—maybe opt for something a little more interesting than “interesting.”

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.