I’m told I wasn’t a whiny kid, and I’m certainly not a grumpy old woman (perhaps a little, early morning), yet one thing does make me whine … overuse of glue words.

In a household with three kids, stuff breaks. All the time. I buy glue by the gallon and I’m an over-user. A ‘glue abuser’. I delude myself a copious amount of glue works better than modest application. If the instructions say ‘add a drop’, I add a teaspoonful. If it says ‘wait till both sides dry before adhering’, I whack it together immediately, because Sally logic says ‘tacky’ sticks better than ‘dry to the touch’. Result: GLUE FAIL, and the mended item re-breaks, usually fatally. GLUER FAIL seems fairer—after all, it’s not the glue’s fault.

Similarly, many writers overuse glue words. These are innocuous little prepositions, conjunctions and interjections that ‘glue’ sentences together by connecting ‘working’ words such as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. While glue words play an essential role in language and writing, they should only be used where necessary.

A wordy, rambling passage can be cropped of unnecessary glue words, or rearranged/rewritten to convey the writer’s message more effectively and succinctly. Compound prepositions are a common culprit. Why start a sentence, ‘It was because of this that…’, when you can write, ‘Because…’? Six words or one. Your choice.

Richard C. Wydick, Professor of Law Emeritus at UC Davis School of Law, abhors verbosity. In his 1978 article, Plain English for Lawyers*, Richard states:

… when you find too many glue words, it is a sign that the sentence is badly constructed. A good sentence is like fine cabinetwork: the pieces are cut and shaped to fit together with scarcely any glue. When you find too many glue words in a sentence, take it apart and reshape the pieces to fit tighter.

Here’s an example of ‘gluey’ writing:
‘It was in the summer of 1964 that I first went to the island of Jersey. That was when I saw Jersey cows for the first time and I thought that they were truly magnificent.’ (Two sentences. Word count: 35).

What’s the writer saying?
‘I first saw the magnificent Jersey cow when I visited the island of Jersey in summer, 1964.’ (One sentence. Word count: 17).
Words removed: ‘It was in the’, ‘of’, ‘that’, ‘That was when’, ‘for the’, ‘time and’ ‘thought that they were truly’. (Difference: 18 words).

In August 2014, I wrote an article, 21st Century Readers… Why writers mustn’t ignore the evolution of reading, noting the importance of disciplined writing. Today’s readers are often time poor; they read books on small screens such as tablets or phones, and they read fast. If your story is a page-turner, they don’t want to be bogged down with wordy narrative and cluttered dialogue.

When you write, keep the reader in mind. If you struggle with word counts, an experienced editor will identify ‘waffle’, verbosity and superfluous text, tighten up your narrative, maintain momentum and keep the story pithy, while retaining the all-important voice in your writing.

I’m not suggesting you write without passion, or write soullessly; I recommend you write with clarity and conviction to keep readers engaged. Read something you wrote recently. How many unnecessary words can you delete? Could a sentence be written differently using fewer words to say the same thing?

My point is the beauty of words and language should be presented eloquently, not peppered with unnecessary glue words. Make it punchy, and convey meaning as succinctly and effectively as possible.

Eliminate overuse of glue words, and let your writing shine!

Richard C. Wydick, Plain English for Lawyers*, 66 Cal. L. Rev. 727 (1978). Available at:

Search this website