BONUS: Ten Ways To Annoy Your English Prof


As an English prof, I have marked thousands of essays. Here are ten words or phrases that students tend to misuse.


Even academics abuse this one. You can simply say “use” and be done with it.


Ditto for this one. Most of the time “social” will do the trick.


This one occurs frequently in thesis statements. Saying that something is “interesting” often implies that you haven’t made up an actual argument, but are hoping that your attitude to the subject matter counts for something. It doesn’t.


This is not even a word, but a surprising number of students seem to feel that “exaggerate” doesn’t quite do the job. We need something stronger, which is rather ironic given the circumstances.


You wouldn’t believe how often students write that the characters in a book are interesting because they are relatable. As long as we can spot that fictional people are in some sense human, our work is done. (Unless of course the characters are overexaggerated).


Some people like to go trainspotting; others go hunting for themes. These days anything in a text is a theme. Look, I’ve found a theme: it’s man vs. nature, or friendship, or love! There’s no need to make an argument about the theme. Spotting it is enough.


Some students are eager to show that they’ve actually read the book. That’s why they provide constant references to the reading process (“in my reading,” “to the reader,” “for the audience”). Don’t worry, if you’re writing about the text, we will assume that you have done some reading, even if it’s only SparkNotes.


If you think you’ve really made your point, you add the word “essentially” for emphasis. Hamlet is essentially suicidal. Oscar Wilde is essentially gay. Plato’s shadows are essentially unreal.


As soon as I see the phrase “the dictionary definition,” I know I’m about to read a definition of a perfectly ordinary word. This invariably happens in the first sentence of the essay.

In conclusion

If you place this at the start of your last paragraph you’re not doing anyone a service. We can see that this is your last paragraph—there is no need to point out the obvious.

Bonus word: capture.

Some people seem to think that “captivate” and “captive” mean the same thing. By this logic even the best book will put you in chains, forced to read a story that you literally can’t put down.

Dishonorable mentions

It’s hard to stop, so here are some (dis)honorable mentions:


off of


In conclusion, that is essentially my list of ten interesting words that you should not utilize without thinking about whether they will capture the reader. So next time you analyze some themes, make sure you pick words from the dictionary (unlike overexaggerated) that are relatable and of societal use.