7 Ways to Make Your Writing Sound Pretentious.

There are plenty of ways to make your writing sound pretentious, but here are five I keep running into:

1. Beginning a sentence with “for.” What? Have you ever done this in person? For if you have, you surely have no friends. “For” at the beginning of a sentence (okay, except in this case, because it’s weirdly the subject of the sentence) is the equivalent of an exclamation point at the end of a joke. Speaking of…

2. Using an exclamation point at the end of a joke. It’s like laughing at yourself. Or, not quite-quite-as-bad-but-still-ruining-it: it’s like saying, “Get it? I just made a joke!” See how funny that was? Not very!

3. Using the word “shall.” Shakespeare’s Mom just called. She wants to know: ‘Shall she shoot your writing career now, or wait?’ Thou shall not use this in modern speech. Period.

4. Overusing “quite”. “Quite” isn’t really a no-no, especially when used negatively, as in: “It’s not quite right.” But “The weather is quite nice”, and “You have quite the talent,” or “I am quite a smart fellow, see how I use the word ‘quite’ quite a bit?” doesn’t work. Especially if you’re an American – then you just sound like an idiot.

5.  Making things a “must”. I realize this makes me sound like a half-baked postmodern hippie-type, but really, “must” – it just sounds so grandiose. Compare: “Good writers don’t use adverbs,” and “Good writers must not use adverbs.” Oh, I almost puked writing it. I think there’s only one person who can use this word, and that’s the president of the United States.

6. Using foreign languages. Leave the Latin phraseology in your research paper, please. And even then, please. We are no longer a trilingual culture – we aren’t trained in grade-school to read and write Latin and Greek. As they say: obscurum per obscurius.

7. Using any complicated word in place of a simple one. I know – you want us all to know that you can say “nugatory” instead of “trivial”, but really: no one cares. This doesn’t mean you can’t use rare words, if they have precisely the right meaning – it just means you need to balance specificity with simplicity.

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nick.youthwriter@gmail.com

Nicholas McDonald is a blogger, pastor, and author of the book "Faker: How to Be Real When You're Tempted to Fake it." He studied creative writing and communication at Oxford University and Olivet Nazerene University, and received his M.Div from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He currently resides in Lexington, NC, with his wife and two boys, Caleb and Owen.

6 Comments

  1. I think “for” used as a conjunction sounds archaic no matter where it is in the sentence (“I wore two pairs of mittens, for the wind was extremely cold”). But as a preposition it sounds OK, even at the beginning: “For fans of Katy Perry, this will be the best halftime show ever.”

    I agree about “quite.” One of my biggest pet peeves is when a British novelist brings in characters who are supposed to be American, and they say “quite” and “terribly” and “darling” and “frightfully.”

    • Good point on “for”, Jeannie. I don’t have your grammar chops, but you’re saying what I’m trying to say!

  2. Regarding number 3: Phrased any other way, “You shall not pass!” loses some of its verve. But perhaps balrogs speak Shakespearean English and would not understand it another way. At any rate, wizards can probably get away with saying anything they please.

    • I think, as a general rule, wizards can say “shall” and presidents can say “must”, but no one else.

  3. Personally I use ‘for’ at the beginning of a sentence quite often (apparently I use ‘quite’ too). Paul uses this in his writings, at least, in the ESV translation. It is where I probably picked up the practice. Also, I use ‘shall’ in my sermon writing along with ‘must’. The use of foreign languages in commentaries annoy me, especially showing the word in the Greek or Hebrew text. I can’t read that! We are not all seminarians. At least give the English equivalent in parenthesis.

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