Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Weasel Words and Phrases

by Stephanie Morrill

We're continuing to celebrate the release of the Go Teen Writers book (available at,, and Kobo Books) with more free printables from the book's Extras section. today's is a list of our weasel words and phrases:

Stephanie and Jill’s Weasel Words and Phrases
These are words we overuse or that sneak into our first drafts despite our best efforts to keep 
them out.

Stephanie’s List

Quirked (my characters are always quirking eyebrows)
So-and-so rolled her eyes/ran her hands through her hair
“Or something” (I like to throw that in to the end of a lot of my sentences for some reason.
“We should go to the movies or something.”)
Past/Passed—I have issues remembering which is correct.
It—Especially at the start of sentences. Often “it” should be replaced with something more

Jill’s List

Vague words
Many, few, lots, a lot of, a little, some, most, almost, more, a few, rather, might, perhaps,
much, often, for the most part, like, seem, etc.

Every, very, entire, everyone, everything, etc.

Verbs that facilitate telling
Feel/felt, see/saw, hear/heard, think/thought, look, watch, taste, smell, wonder, decide,
notice, remember, recall, consider, ponder, is, am, are, was, were, has, had, have, etc.

Infinite Verb Phrases (Starting sentences with —ing words)

Continuous action words
As, when, while, after, continued to.

Overuse of “they” or “them” tends to create the feel of an omniscient POV.

Time transitions
Just, then, as, the next day, all at once, soon, etc.

Softly, angrily, sadly, really, basically, immediately, very, actually, surely, usually, truly,
suddenly, etc.

Double verbs
Started to, began to.

Some other words on my list:
Thought/though/through, loose/lose, there, it, be, being, been, became, that, well, poor,
anyway, quite, however, about.

And here's the printable:


  1. Hmmm. I might have to read the book to understand, but I'm not entirely sure what the issues are with some of Jill's list. Like the continuous action words, the time transitions, and the "absolutes." Which is making me nervous because I know I have plenty of the first two categories, at least, and I'm not sure what I'd replace them with.

    1. Amanda, yes, it probably does make more sense when you've read Jill's chapter on tightening your prose!

      In her chapter she explains that they're not bad words to use or anything like that, just they often get misused or overused, so it's good to double-check. Make sense?

    2. Yup, I get it now! Thanks. I'm waiting for the print version, so I'll just have to be patient. :)

  2. 'Slightly' was the biggest weasel word I've ever struggled with. Slightly this and slightly that. I have a friend who critiques my writing now and she's managed to get me to stop using 'slightly' every other sentence. Also, I changed my auto correct on my computer to replace every 'slightly' with DELETE. And that works nicely. XD

    1. LOL, yes it would, wouldn't it? It'd also make me laugh when reading through to edit.

  3. "It" is definitely one that I have to watch. I feel like I'm using "that" a lot to replace "it" though :/ I liked both the lists :)

  4. I use like, just, said, and or something WAY to much! Plus every character "tilts their head" reading through my draft I want to screa, everytime I see it

  5. Oh, boy. As I read over some of those examples, I could immediately could think of a few sentences in my current WIP that have one or two of these weasel words. Looks like I'll have some work on my hands once the editing time comes!

    I do have a question though. Sometimes in my WIP I'll begin a sentence with an -ing word, and I know I've seen it done in other books that I've read before. Why is that considered a weasel trick? Is it just weak writing? And what would you do to fix a sentence that begins like that?

    Thanks, Stephanie!

    1. Great question, Clare! It's okay sometimes, but you have to make sure it can actually happen. Sentences like this aren't okay:

      Grabbing my notebook, I ran out my door and hopped on the bus.

      Because you can't actually run out the door and hop on the bus AS you grab the notebook. It's better to write it:

      I grabbed my notebook, then ran out my door and hopped on the bus.

      Does that make sense?

    2. Yes, thank you! You cleared up the confusion nicely! :)

  6. Stephanie,
    It made me both sigh and smile when my eyes rolled past your part of the list, and I saw that, just like with you, really very many of these weasel words were, like, in my manuscripts too, or something! ☺

    1. Oh, Rick this totally cracked me up! Or something :)

  7. I'm working on eliminating weasel words in first drafting, but it's fun to edit the book you're co-writing with a friend and see their weasel words.

    Eye rolling is definitely one of my weasels. And face palming. Sarcasm and sass is more of a weasel tone than a weasel word or phrase...

  8. I notice I use 'quite' and 'slightly' a lot, so now as I edit I search for those and take out most of them.
    My characters also tend to use the same reactions a lot - there's so much 'So-and-so nodded' throughout the story that needs to go. And I found one page where I'd been stopping and starting a lot as I wrote, and I ended up with 'Charactername laughed.' three times in half a page.