Monday, May 19, 2008

English as a Foreign Language: 7 of the Most Over-Used Words in English

Do You Read English a Lot Too?
Long ago I lost count of the number of papers, reports, essays, articles, letters, posts, memoranda and compositions I’ve read over the years. As a professor of English as a foreign language for the past two decades, Reading is something I do daily and for long hours at that. Even so, there are some redundancies that crop up almost continually during the course of my reading and sometimes even my writing that I’d like to share.

Over-Used English Words
These are what I believe to be seven of the most over-used words in English in both the written and spoken forms. In the vast majority of instances where these words appear, or are spoken, they could be completely eliminated with virtually no loss in meaning or comprehension of the sentence or spoken discourse.

The relative pronouns who, that or which form much of the basis for relative pronoun clause sentences used with such frequency in the English language. When combining two sentences into one, they are indispensable for clarity however.

*For example: A writer is a person who (or that) prepares articles, stories and books.

Remember: Basically, the relative pronoun “who” is used for a person or people, “that” is used for people or a thing and “which” is used for things and animals.

As a sequential connector indicating a resulting action or stage in a sequence so, or any of the other connectors such as and, or, so, have grammatical function. And, you can even begin a sentence with “and” but it’s often redundant to do so as was just illustrated.

There’s an unsurprising tendency to stick an “and” onto the end of a sentence to allow you to just keep going. There is no “longest possible sentence” in English. You could, by the use of connectors or conjunctions like “and”, just keep going and going and going with a sentence in English. Traversing your way from a simple sentence to a compound sentence through complex sentences which seem to never end, but it’s not good practice to do so.

Remember how you or a child just kept asking “why” in answer to an explanation?

“Why is the sky blue?” you’d be asked.
You’d explain to some degree then get the response – “Why?”
You’d explain further to get yet another “Why?” and so on ad infinitum.

Whenever you though would ask, “Why?” the answer you’d likely get is, “Because …”

“Because what, honey?

“Just because …”

With alarming frequency though, many EFL learners develop the same response, using “just” annexed into sentences without cause. Even some native-English-speaking adults do it too.

Used to modify an adjective is the most common form of applying “really”, “very”, “pretty” and “fairly” into a form of written or spoken English language discourse. It could also be used as a confirmation marker:

“I’m finished all my homework, Mom”

“Really?” (Mom wants confirmation, she doesn't believe her son)

The problem comes in when “really” is annexed onto almost everything said or written. It becomes over-used, redundant and losses effectiveness.

This one I hear extensively over-used on the part of both my American English and British English-speaking friends and co-workers. Sometimes it just drives me nuts. In the vast majority of cases, this word too, could be pulled with no resulting loss in meaning or comprehension.

The use of the definite and indefinite articles is a distinctive problem with Romance family language speakers and learners, as Spanish and French for example, make frequent use of these articles, but English does not. Getting EFL, English as a foreign language or ESL, English as a second language learners to understand the application and use of the articles in English can be a real challenge.

These seven words and some additional accompanying lexis are what I believe to be some of the most over-used words in English in both the written and spoken forms. In the vast majority of instances where these words appear, or are used, they could be removed with no loss in meaning or comprehension. Notice how often you see them used in writing or hear them used in spoken discourse and I’m sure you’ll see just what I mean.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 100 countries. Get your FREE E-book, “If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.

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