Aim for one-syllable words

Churchill was right — short words are best

What do you notice about this passage, excerpted from an article in The Economist?

Tell it like Churchill image

Tell it like Churchill Want to improve reading ease? Use mostly one-syllable words. Image by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives

“‘Short words are best,’ said Winston Churchill, ‘and old words when short are the best of all.’

“And, not for the first time, he was right: short words are best. Plain they may be, but that is their strength. They are clear, sharp and to the point. You can get your tongue round them. You can spell them. Eye, brain and mouth work as one to greet them as friends, not foes. For that is what they are. They do all that you want of them, and they do it well.

“On a good day, when all is right with the world, they are one more cause for cheer. On a bad day, when the head aches, you can get to grips with them, grasp their drift and take hold of what they mean. And thus they make you want to read on, not turn the page. …’”

With the exception of “Winston” and “Churchill,” this 800-word story uses only one-syllable words. And, with an average word length of 3.7 characters, it scores a Flesch Reading Ease of 100.

Make 80% of your words one syllable long.

Take a tip from this passage: Use mostly one-syllable words.

Chances are, you won’t lose anything but reading difficulty. As Alden S. Wood, columnist on language and English usage, writes:

“Compensation and remuneration say nothing that pay does not say better. Gift is more to the point than donation. Room will beat accommodation every time, as try will defeat endeavor. On the other hand, interface, parameter, viable, finalize and prioritize are typical of the voguish words that mask, rather than reveal, what it is we want to say.”

Use short words.

It is possible to write in mostly one-syllable words.

Short and sweet

Short and sweet The words we use most often in the English language have just one syllable.

Most of the words we use most often in the English language have just one syllable: the, of, and, to, a, in, that, it, is, was, I and so on.

In fact, members of the “Club for One-Pulse Words” go so far as to speak exclusively in words of one syllable.

And you thought writing with short words was tough.

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Sources: “In praise of short words,” The Economist, Oct. 7, 2004

Alden S. Wood, “Wood on Words: Keep it Simple,” IABC Communication World, December 1988

Ann Wylie, Cut Through the Clutter, Wylie Communications Inc., 2005

Dave Blum, “In Praise of Small Words,” The Wall Street Journal,  “Some Month, One Nine Eight Two”

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