Avoiding ‘Thing’ Words

I’ll admit right off the bat that my major pet peeve is ‘thing’ words. Something. Nothing. Anything. Everything. And just plain old thing. In my experience, these words pop up all over the place in student writing (not to mention peer-reviewed journal articles), and I cringe every time I see them. ‘Thing’ words are vague, bland, weak, and leave much open to interpretation. And, most of all, they read as lazy writing. 

No matter the class, I tell my students that ‘thing’ words are banned. From drafts, homework, emails, and every other piece of writing they send my way. At first, they seem confused, but then I ask them to define a thing, and they struggle. After all, a thing is a thing. As the semester progresses, I push them more often to avoid those pesky words, and they usually succeed in cutting more of them out. Although one or two often slip through, even in my own writing.

They’re one of our crutch words, a catchall for when we don’t want to think to hard or want to avoid definitive claims. But pushing oneself and their students to avoid any and all ‘thing’ words has helped strengthen their writing by being more precise and making them think about exactly what it is they’re trying to say. 

Below you’ll find a handout that outlines the problem and offers several steps to help students avoid ‘thing’ words.


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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash



Teaching Assistant at University of Illinois at Chicago |

Hannah Green is a PhD student in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. While a creative writer by nature, she’s a teacher at heart and enjoys teaching writing in all its forms including composition, professional, technical, and creative writing. Her research interests include the place of the asylum in narratives of mental illness, the literature of Southern Africa, and oral storytelling. Her creative writing appears both in print and online in places such as The Rumpus, PANK, and McSweeney's. Hannah is also the Editor-in-Chief of During Office Hours.


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