Verbosity (Composition and Communication)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A 1623 edition of William Shakespeare's First Folio.
"He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument." The schoolmaster Holofernes in Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare. Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

Verbosity means wordiness — using more words than are needed to convey a message. Adjective: verbose. Verbosity is also called clutter, deadwood, and prolixity. Contrast with brevitydirectness, and conciseness

Verbosity is generally considered a stylistic fault that disregards the interests of an audience.

From the Latin, "word"

Examples and Observations

  • "Verbosity is not the greatest communication sin, but piling on more words than necessary buries the words that really matter."
    (Perry McIntosh and Richard Luecke, Interpersonal Communication Skills in the Workplace, 2nd ed. American Management Association, 2008)
  • “All forms of verbosity might be described as padding."
    (Ernest Gowers, The Complete Plain Words, revised by Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut. David R. Godine, 1988)
  • "Three good things happen when you combat verbosity: your readers read faster, your own clarity is enhanced, and your writing has greater impact. Both you and your readers benefit."
    (Bryan A. Garner, Legal Writing in Plain English. The University of Chicago Press, 2001)
  • Mark Twain on Combating Verbosity
    "I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable."
    (Mark Twain, letter to D. W. Bowser, March 1880)
  • The Secret of Good Writing
    "Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn't think of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple--there must be something wrong with it.
    "But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what--these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank."
    (William Zinsser, On Writing Well. Collins, 2006)
  • Pompo-Verbosity
    "A very common cause of verbosity is the desire to be grand. The dividing line between dignity and pomposity is not always well marked. Something depends on the subject-matter, for language that is aptly used to describe affairs of grave national concern will be merely pompous if applied to the trivial or the humdrum. But there is no doubt that pompo-verbosity is a persistent and insidious danger, both to official writers and to others. . . . Here are a few examples:
    They will have to work with unusually distant time-horizons. (They will have to look unusually far ahead.)
    This would make a major contribution to increased efficiency in its own right. (This would in itself do much to increase efficiency.)
    The Council has decided to inform your Department that no adverse observations are offered on planning grounds to the proposed redevelopment. (The Council sees no objection on planning grounds to the proposed redevelopment.)"
    (Ernest Gowers, The Complete Plain Words, revised by Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut. David R. Godine, 1988)
  • Extra Points for Verbosity?
    "Two Chicago researchers have confirmed what high school and college students have known for years: Many English teachers are more impressed by purple prose than by the clear, concise language that they profess to teach.
    "In a series of experiments over a six-year period, Rosemary L. Hake of Chicago State University and Joseph M. Williams of the University of Chicago asked English teachers to rate pairs of student essays that were identical in everything except linguistic style. One of each pair was marked by simple language, active verbs and straightforward sentences, the other by flowery language, passive verbs and complex sentence structures.
    "The two professors found not only that the teachers consistently preferred verbosity to tight writing but also that the style of language affected their judgment about the kinds of errors they discovered."
    (Edward B. Fiske, "Education." The New York Times, Oct. 27, 1981)
  • The Darker Side of Verbosity"The only verdict is vengeance--a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V."
    (Hugo Weaving as V in the film V for Vendetta, 2006)

Pronunciation: ver-BAH-se-tee

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Nordquist, Richard. "Verbosity (Composition and Communication)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Verbosity (Composition and Communication). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Verbosity (Composition and Communication)." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).