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Getting rid of glue words

What are glue words and how do I get rid of them?

David Gane
David Gane
1 min read

One thing that has strengthened my writing recently is getting rid of glue words.

In his book Plain English for Lawyers, Richard C. Wydick says:

In every English sentence are two kinds of words: working words and glue words. The working words carry the meaning of the sentence. In the preceding sentence the working words are these: working, words, carry, meaning, and sentence. The others are glue words: the, the, of, and the. The glue words do serve a purpose; they hold the working words together to form a proper English sentence. But 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.

I use a few strategies to ferret these out of my writing.

I’ll run my sentences through ProWritingAid’s Sticky tool and see what it catches. It will highlight any sentences with too many glue words, and if I’m lucky, it will suggest alternative sentences. If no options are presented, I’ll identify the working words and strip them down.

Grammarly also flags sentences with too many glue words but lists them amongst the other results.

ProWritingAid seems more critical in its responses, but I’ll use it and Grammarly together to catch my errors.

It took a little practice to improve my sentences when I started searching for glue words, but I’ve learned a few other strategies that help:

  • Locate the working words and pull out as many words around them as you can.
  • Sometimes, we make our sentences work too much. Separating them into individual ones that are focused on a single idea helps.
  • The initial phrasing of a sentence may not be ideal, so rearranging or reversing the work words often helps. Not only does this strategy remove words, but it also makes the sentence more assertive and direct.

Good luck.

David Gane Twitter

Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.