Sometimes it’s the littlest things that elevate your writing. Take the word oftentimes: an upstanding member of the English language since the 14th century.

But when it crops up in business writing, I have yet to find a case where replacing it with often doesn’t improve the sentence — if only slightly. Take for example the following line, cribbed from some marketing copy I encountered on the job:

However, oftentimes, these women don’t know what CXX even does.

First, this shows that writers like to “front” the word oftentimes in a sentence — and there’s nothing wrong with that in principle. But rhythm is important, even in professional prose, and dropping that one syllable would make this roll a little easier. (That’s because oftentimes has a metrical pattern called an dactyl. Yes, I’m also a poetry geek.)

However, often, these women don’t know what CXX even does.

Even more important, though: here we already have a sentence opener in however. Doubling up means two commas, and two pauses, which slows things down even further. Better to move the adverb often further in, closer to the verb it modifies. This gets the sentence moving quicker and tightens things up overall.

However, these women often don’t know what CXX even does.

For the bonus round: I’d move even as well, placing it so that it clearly modifies the verb know (instead of does). This better reflects what the writer probably intended anyway. It’s a fine point, but then, we are talking about the little things here, right?

However, these women often don’t even know what CXX does.

So remember: save oftentimes for more casual or poetic writing, and when you see it at work, take 50 percent off. It’s a minor savings, but hey — these things add up.

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