Rid Your Life Of Grammatical Clutter

Some people with the laudable intention of uncluttering their lives forget to get rid of the junk in their writing. Are you one of those?

Whether you’re a blogger or rarely write more than a two-sentence email (or blog comment perhaps), part of living a simple, deliberate life is bringing your text in line with your lifestyle.

Grammatical clutter is among the worst kinds of clutter because it is inflicted on others. If you write something that’s intended to be read by others, you have an obligations to free it from the clutter of unnecessary letters, useless punctuation and lifeless words.

An Unnecessary Introduction

While I could get right to a few pieces of advice, I’ll take a moment to make a few comments first.

Getting rid of clutter doesn’t mean taking the life out of your writing or even eliminating fun and interesting stuff just because it isn’t necessary. It means saying what you’re saying carefully and efficiently.

My degree from the University of Texas at Arlington is in Communication, so I know a bit about conveying a message appropriately. (Was it necessary to say which school? Did you notice that there’s no “s” on the end of Communication? Should I have capitalized it in this case?)

My first love was news and feature writing, but I was convinced to study television and radio also because experts believed newspapers were going away. It wasn’t true then — although it seems to be true now.

Because I won some newswriting competitions in high school, I knew I had the knack for the kind of precise and concise writing that print publications require. It’s the same kind of direct writing that works well on the web today.

Journalists who are properly trained say things the simplest way while eliminating anything that wastes precious space. Space may no longer be a consideration since most words end up on the web, but writing directly, concisely and precisely is always the best idea.

Eliminating Grammatical Clutter

There’s no way to create a complete list of grammatical complexities that can easily be eliminated, but here are a few bits of grammatical clutter that weaken good writing. Please add to the list in the comments section below.

Unnecessary thats. In many cases, the word that isn’t very useful. While that is a matter of opinion in some cases, there is no reason why that it has to be included just because that is what you’ve always done. If a sentence still makes sense without that, eliminate it and save your readers from that clutter.

Outdated commas. This is a relatively new thing for me, but I no longer include a comma before the word “too” at the end of a sentence. While your English teacher may have said it was necessary, grammarians these days find it useless. What purpose does it serve really? Eliminate the comma in this circumstance and lots of others too.

Complex punctuation. One of the agency for which I sometimes write just clarified its policy on semicolons when used along with conjuctions to join two sentences. What? Yes, I know what that means, but why would a regular, normal person bother with a semicolon? A semicolon just screams “overly complex”. Complex punctuation confuses readers; it puts them off.

Long spellings. While it’s appropriate to spell the word for a book of products either catalog or catalogue, why would you include the extra letters? Declutter your words by using the simplest spelling that’s acceptable.

What can you add to this list of grammatical clutter?

An Unnecessary Conclusion

The posts on So Much More Life are an odd mishmash of different kinds of writing. Some posts are carefully crafted and repeatedly edited to make sure they convey the proper meaning and emotion. Others are written quickly, glanced over and published.

While it’s sometimes necessary to be wordy to convey the proper emotion, it’s never a good idea to be sloppy. My sloppiest posts are examples, I suppose, of a life so out of control I couldn’t be bothered to offer you my best. Do you offer less than you could to the people you write for? (Prepositions at the end of sentence are acceptable these days, but I admit they still bother me a bit.)

Every piece of writing deserves to live in a fresh and clean environment.

If your writing is detracting from itself, clean it up. It’s part of decluttering your life.


  1. These times of transition in writing rules are challenging. I also have trouble ending a written sentence with a preposition and am struggling to use fewer punctuation marks including dropping the hyphen from some words. But even us old dogs can learn new tricks so I am gaining on it.

    1. I suppose language is always in transition, but when you make a choice to write one way or another, someone always thinks you’re wrong. While it’s acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition, it still isn’t technically correct. And while everyone knows email doesn’t have a hyphen anymore, what about e-commerce? (I obviously have no problem starting sentences with “and”. That’s never bothered me.)

      Thanks for commenting, Linda. It’s always good to have you here.

  2. In your first example (“Was it necessary to say which school?…”) I think many people do that, even when it sounds awkward, because it is an opportunity to name-drop. I guess it is a combination of bragging and branding, and they hope you’ll think more highly of them because of where they went to school.

    Use of brand names (whether of schools or products) is something I usually avoid unless the specific brand needs to be known for my point to be understood. No need to sneak in the brand of your computer, phone, or music player, for example, if all I need to know is that you are talking, computing, or listening.

    Superfluous name-dropping comes across to me as someone either being pretentious or trying to inflate their ego.

    1. Very interesting. I don’t necessarily think of mentioning a school or brand as name-dropping, but is often unnecessary. Sometimes, it’s just a way to work in another piece of information for anyone who cares.

      In my case, there’s nothing particularly prestigious about UTA. It’s part of the prestigious University of Texas system, but it’s just one of the local state universities here in Fort Worth/Dallas. Name-dropping will get you nowhere if the name is UTA!

  3. As a Brit the difference between catalogue and catalog feels to me like I’d expect luv instead of love would to you. 🙂

    1. I’ve often wondered if British journalists are also taught to use shorter versions of words as I was. I know they’re often taught not to allow American spellings to creep into their writing.

      Someday, I suppose everyone will write luv instead of love. But I’m not quite ready for that!

      I watch so much British TV, sometimes forget the American word for things. I saw a guy the other day selling what I immediately recognized as candy floss. It took me a long time to think of “cotton candy”.


      1. LOL Gip. I think British journalists who write for the tabloids are definately taught to simplify. I heard that the “Sun” newspaper is written with a reading age of 8.

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