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Word Choice Issues: Examples

Sometimes real examples of writing issues are easier to understand than lengthy, complicated explanations. In this new series (see the list of “Real Examples of Various Writing Issues“) you’ll see various real-life writing problems and suggested solutions.

Examples of word choice issues:

In the following cases, the writer might want to consider a different word or phrase. Can you see what the problem is in each case? Do you agree with the editor’s solution? If not, what solution would you suggest?

“As he drove through his hometown, observing the streets lined with looted homes, some with bodies left to rot in front, the police chief could not help but become emotional.”
–> “Become emotional” is way too weak in this situation. Use strong language and action – could not help but swear/ weep/ pound on the steering wheel in frustration?

“These godly characters must have been real, alien beings.”
–> Or “god-like”? “Godly” means “righteous—like God.” This doesn’t fit your context.

“…as supposed to the other way around.”
–> Do you mean “as opposed to” ??

“I was completely mystified, stunt and puzzled upon waking up.”
–> Do you mean “stumped”?

“Growing up in one of the most industrial cities …”
–> industrialized?

“Little did I knew that through this journey on a quest to feel better, I’d find … ”
–> Could you use a stronger phrase – for example, “to bring fulfilment to my life” or “to bring understanding to my life”?

“When I felt he was trying to get my attention … ”
–> “Felt” is a fuzzy word. How about “When I perceived…” or “When I realized…” or “When I noticed…”

“For a while, I thought about being a police.”
–> police officer

As I read it, my heart raced, my breathing slumbered.”
–> Is this the word you really want to use? Perhaps “faltered” or even “stopped”?

“He told me later he’d had an apparition that someone went off the ledge.”
–> Do you mean “premonition” or “intimation”? An “apparition” usually means a ghost-like image.

“… left an impression on me of great magnitude …”
–> Do you mean “magnanimity” (the quality of being magnanimous: loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity)?

“We travelled the entire length of the Gaspe Bay Peninsula along the Saint Lawrence River.”
–> Do you mean “Gaspe Peninsula”?

“It was pertinent, however, that he consume adequate amounts of water as he ran the marathon.”
–> Are you sure this is the word you want to use? Perhaps: essential?

“… rending him speechless … ”
–> “Rending” means to tear apart. Do you mean “rendering”?

“It dawned him and shocked him …”
–> dawned upon him?

“Erin was at the side of them.”
–> Or: beside them?? Or: at their side??

“The police officer gripped his arm to succumb him.”
–> Do you mean “subdue”?

“Her brain was null and void of that part of her past.”
–>I think you mean “was emptied” or “had blanked out”—you may want to use a different word or phrase because “null and void” means “having no force, binding power, or validity” and I don’t think that’s what you mean here.

“Had it been a gradual process which had quietly regressed over the first few years of her marriage?”
–> Are you sure this is the word you want? “Regress” means to return to a former or less developed state. I think you mean something like “developed” (which is the opposite of regressed).

“’Shut up’” he warned, between greeted teeth.
–> I’m pretty sure you mean: gritted.

“Years ago, she had learned it wasn’t worth cutting edges.”
–> Do you mean “cutting corners”? Or are you avoiding using a cliche?

“She tried to get the paint out of her hair, but some of it was difficult to extrapolate.”
–> Are you sure “extrapolate” is the word you want? It refers to drawing a conclusion. Possibly “expunge” or?

“His eyebrows were thick and bushy and as black as his eyes, which were captivated by long, black eyelashes.”
–> Are you sure this is the word form you meant to use? Perhaps you mean: which were captivating with their long, black eyelashes?

“The words on a page became his recluse.”
–> Perhaps use “retreat” or another synonym. “Recluse” refers to a person.

“… where any stranger who came to steward the land could make it their oyster …”
–> I understand the idiom, but somehow “land” and “oyster” don’t seem to work very well together. It seems to me that you may be mixing metaphors?

“Oh yes I can,” retorted Mr. Smith with indignity.
–> I think you mean: indignantly?

“Apart from his blue eyes, there was nothing in his stature which replicated the features of the accused.”
–> “Stature” usually refers to height, but I think you’re talking about his looks, generally—maybe a different word would be better, such as “appearance”?

“I listened to her tell me a life story that would make you shutter.”
–> shudder (a shutter is a window covering).

So off we headed to the convenient store.
–> convenience?

“Their property encompassed a small hill where they had placed three large antennaes.”
–> antennas. “Antennaes” is a biological term–and it is a plural form itself.

“The wooden chimes lightly chimed.”
–> Rang? Sounded?

“Her overdue credit card had to be cut up.”
–> Overdrawn? Overspent?

“A flock of geese flapped noisily overhead. Honk, honk, honk.”
–> Maybe: “Their raucous honking filled the air.” The three honks sound like car horns.

“Joseph just kept walking, swooshing me.”
–> I think you mean: shushing me. (Swooshing is an action, like an owl swooshing down to catch a mouse. Shushing is making a sound that warns one to be quiet.)

“My nerves were taking the best of me.”
–> This is an odd expression. Maybe: My nerves were overtaking my ability to think or act.

“I was very serious this time to do the job right.”
–> Or: determined?

“My mind was entertained with his lips. I wanted to feel them again.”
–> Do you mean “entranced”? … On the other hand, maybe you do mean “entertained” 🙂

“A jig is a few polite bobs and curtseys along with a gentile strut.”
–> Do you mean “genteel”? (“Gentile” means not Jewish.)

“The wrestle of the trees was eerie.”
–> Are you sure this is the word you want? “Wrestle” is a type of fighting. Perhaps you mean “rustling” or “whistling” of the trees?

“Early morning pre-school church service attendance was highly encouraged.”
–> I would use “before school” or “pre-classes” rather than “pre-school” as “preschool” is a common term for pre-kindergarten or nursery school.

Your turn!

Did reading the above examples help you understand the need to self-edit carefully, to ask a beta-reader to check your writing, and to make careful use of a dictionary and/or thesaurus? What did you learn about word choice from these examples?

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