Don’t Get Caught in the “Thing” Trap


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Ug Words

Ug words are the words that make us instructors say “UG!” when we read them. So, you should avoid using them at all costs.

The following words and phrases are used too often in our vocabulary and as such don’t really mean anything to us. If any of the following are in your essay, you should replace them with more concrete or more formal words:
a lot, lots



get (most of the time, you can find a better word)


great (only on rare occasions)

I think, I feel (or “feel” by itself), I believe, in my opinion, etc.

in today’s society (or any variation of “in today’s” where “today” can suffice)

it is . . . (when the “it” has no clear antecendent; e.g., “It is important not to plagiarize.”)




one (as in a person)

quote (unless used properly)



says (say, said)

society (referring to a vague, indifferent group)

states (state, stated)


there are . . .


well, now, yeah (and any other conversational words)


you (unless your instructor gives you permission to use second person)

And speaking of “thing” . . .

Handout courtesy of Cheryl Smith

Don’t Get Caught in the “Thing” Trap
When you write sentences, you may find yourself using the word “thing” too much. To move away from this problem, try one of the words in the list or any other words that fit the subject of your paper.

abilities details movements resources

actions difficulties occasions responses

advances effects occurrences rules

advantages events parts sections

adventures experiences performances situations

agreements facts periods skills

attributes features places successes

behaviors feelings points surprises

benefit frustrations powers talents

characteristics ideas problems themes

choices impressions projects thoughts

concerns improvements promises troubles

conflicts incidents qualities types

contributions items reasons

corrections matters remedies


Weak: As I read about Ben Franklin, I learned many things about his life.

Better: As I read about Ben Franklin, I learned that his life was filled with challenges.
Weak: The authors discussed three things about ever-changing technology.

Better: The article described three features about ever-changing technology.

Weak: The instructor did two things to encourage all her students to read more.

Better: The instructor started two projects to encourage her students to read more.

Weak: Of all the things the characters did in the book, living in the underwater home was the most exciting.

Better: Of all the adventures the characters had in the book, living in the underwater home was the most exciting.

Avoiding Clichés
You can bet your bottom dollar that clichés fall on deaf ears. Even though students heave a sigh of relief because they think they have hit the nail on the head when they use clichés, they are actually up a creek without a paddle because clichés stick out like a sore thumb. When you come right down to it, you may as well whistle Dixie because clichés are like a house afire. It goes without saying that students should make a clean breast of using clichés so their writing can be as fresh as a daisy. So take the bull by the horns and fight like a tiger to avoid clichés. Below is a list to help you identify some of the more common ones.

bet your bottom dollar

boggle the mind

breathe a sigh of relief

bright and early

by leaps and bounds

by the same token

calm before the storm

case in point

clear as a bell

dead as a doornail

dead in the water

death warmed over

depths of despair

down in the dumps

draw the line

early bird gets the worm

easier said than done

face the music

fall between the cracks

fight like a tiger

fine and dandy

fly off the handle

fond farewell

food for thought

fools rush in

foot in your mouth

foregone conclusion

generous to a fault

gentle as a lamb

get your feet wet

grain of salt

happy as a lark

head over heels

heart of gold

heave a sigh of relief

heir apparent

high and dry

high as a kite

hit the spot

hook, line, and sinker

if the truth be told

in no uncertain terms

in the long run

in the nick of time

in this day and age

it goes without saying

keep a low profile

knock on wood

labor of love

land of opportunity

last straw

lean and hungry look

leg up on the competition

let your hair down

let the cat out of the bag

let well enough alone

lick into shape

like a newborn babe

long arm of the law

mad dash

make a clean breast of

make a long story short

make ends meet

make no bones about it

miss the boat

moment of truth

more than meets the eye

(the) more the merrier

motley crew

naked truth

necessary evil

neither fish nor fowl

neither here nor there

no holds barred

on cloud nine

on the ball

open and shut case

opportunity knocks

other side of the coin

plain and simple

plain as day

play it by ear

pretty as a picture

pull no punches

pure as the driven snow

quiet as a mouse

rack your brain

rest assured

roll up your sleeves

sadder but wiser

save for a rainy day

time of your life

tried and true

too little, too late

turn over a new leaf

up a creek without a paddle

wet behind the ears

wise as an owl

worst-case scenario

Cliches found in A Guide to Business English

Reprinted from an unknown source.


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