Linguistic clichés

What are clichés?

Linguistic clichés are phrases in which at least one of the words is constrained in its use by convention. They differ from idioms in that their meaning can be understood without already being familiar with the phrase, and they tend not to add any additional meaning to your writing or speech. They are simply used out of habit.

Examples of clichés include:

No matter what

Above all else

In the wrong place at the wrong time

One thing after another

Better safe than sorry

Is is bad English to use clichés?

Clichés are a normal part of English and have become clichés because they are so effective at helping us to express what we want to say. For learners of English, they can be especially useful to ensure meaning is understood when speaking, and likewise, their familiarity makes it easier to understand what others are saying when they use clichés.

However, in writing, overuse of clichés can make texts appear dull and insincere. As such, their use in formal writing, and excessive use in any type of writing, should be avoided. This can be tricky when English is not your native language, as applying the words and phrases you read to your own speech and writing is part of the learning process.

How can I avoid using clichés?

Proofreading is a very effective method to identify possible clichés in you work. As you read, consider whether your points are clear and specific or vague and lacking clarity? If it is the latter, you might have used a cliché. Asking a native or fluent English speaker to check your work for you is also useful for identifying clichés, as well as general errors within the text.