8 Proven Methods to Reduce Essay Word Count, AI Included

8 Proven Methods to Reduce Essay Word Count, AI Included

Table of contents

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

Yona Schnitzer

We all know how hard it is to write long essays with a minimum word count.

But sometimes, we're faced with the opposite challenge - keeping our essays under a maximum count.

How to Reduce Essay Word Count

1. Use an active voice instead of passive 2. Spot the fluff 3. Eliminate redundant words 4. Shorten wordy phrases 5. Stop using "What" and "There" as subjects 6. Drop the conjunctions 7. Forget the running starts 8. Use shorter words

Anyone who has ever tried covering complex topics with a maximum word ceiling can tell you that it can be challenging to reduce the word count without sacrificing the meaning or flow of your piece. 

In this article, I’ll give you 8 easy tips to help you reduce the word count in your essays without compromising the quality of your writing.

Instantly reduce your word count with this FREE AI tool > Instantly reduce your word count with this FREE AI tool >

reduce essay word count

So, without further ado, here are 8 proven methods to reduce essay word count:

1. use an active voice instead of passive.

Using an active voice makes your writing more direct and concise. Passive voice often adds unnecessary words and can make your writing sound less engaging. For instance:

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

By switching to the passive voice, we’ve reduced our overall word count, while also making the sentence more engaging. 

Be sure to check out our full guide on how to nail the active voice .

2. Spot the fluff

One of the easiest ways to reduce word count is to identify any unnecessary or redundant information in your piece. Whether it’s drawn out introductions, or repetitive information, there’s always something that you can do without. Some tools, like Wordtune can actually help you identify areas where you can afford to shorten your writing, or even entire paragraphs that you can cut out.

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

3. Eliminate redundant words

Many sentences contain words that don't add any value to their meaning and can be easily removed. Very, for example, is a very common offender (see what I did there?). Instead of writing It was very cold outside, just write It was cold outside.

Here are some more examples of redundant words to help you get the idea:

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

4. Shorten wordy phrases

Another way to reduce word count is to identify and shorten wordy phrases. 

For example, instead of writing "due to the fact that, " you can write "because."  

Once you get in the habit of shortening your phrases, it will be like second nature. There are also some tools that can help you with that, like Wordtune's "shorten" feature, which can suggest shorter ways to write a sentence without sacrificing clarity.

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

5. Stop using "What" and "There" as subjects

Using "What" or "There" as the subject of a sentence will add unnecessary words to your writing. Instead, you can rephrase the sentence to make the subject more specific. 

For example: 

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

6. Drop the conjunctions

Conjunctions such as "and," "but," and "however" can be used to connect two independent statements, but they also add unnecessary words to your sentence. Instead of creating one, long sentence that is put together by conjunctions, try writing two separate sentences instead. Usually you’ll find that these end up using less words overall. 

For example:

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

This may seem like a small difference, but over the course of an entire paper, these small changes will really add up.

7. Forget the running starts

In writing, a "running start" refers to a sentence that begins with a word or phrase that does not provide any useful information and can be easily removed without affecting the meaning of the sentence. Common examples of running starts include words like "it," "there," "here," "this," and "that." These words often add unnecessary words to a sentence and can make the writing sound less direct and less engaging. Removing them can help to make your writing more concise and to the point.

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

Pro Tip: Wordtune's "Shorten" feature is great at eliminating running starts.

8. Use shorter words

Sometimes, an assignment has a page limit rather than a word count, in this instance, it can be worth it to identify words that can be replaced with shorter words of the same meaning. For example, instead of writing " utilize ," you can write " use ." 

Here are some other common words that can afford to lose a few letters:

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

Less is more

‍ If you’re looking for tips on how to INCREASE word count, check out this article . 

There are plenty of ways to reduce your word count without sacrificing the quality of your writing. Use these tips and tricks the next time you find yourself desperately trying to squeeze too many sentences onto one page. Keep in mind that whenever you shorten a text, you’re usually improving it by making it more readable and accessible to a larger audience. 

Remember, when it comes to writing - less, is usually more. 

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5 Best ways to Make an Essay Shorter

If you are like me, you will find that you often struggle to stay within the word count in your essays.

In this article, I will show you exactly how to reduce your word count in your essay.

How to make an essay shorter

If you go over the word count in an essay, there are some strategies to make your essay shorter that make sure you keep your marks high and, sometimes, make them even higher.

The trick to going over the word count is seeing this as a positive: you now have the chance to only present your absolute best arguments.

This is a luxury other students in your class just don’t have. Reducing your word count is actually your chance to get even further ahead!

The best essays have no dull, irrelevant or sub-par content. Every paragraph is on-point and designed to win you more and more marks. When editing your work, keep this in mind.

Below, I introduce five important strategies that will help you to reduce your word count in a way that will actually increase your mark!

  • Delete your three Worst Paragraphs. …
  • Listen for Weaknesses using Google Translate or Microsoft Excel Read-out-Loud.
  • Re-Read the Marking Criteria.
  • Shorten Paragraphs over 7 Sentences Long.
  • Delete Irrelevant Words.

1. Delete your three Worst Paragraphs

I usually aim to go over my word count intentionally so I can creatively make the essay shorter in a way that increases my marks.

If I go over the word count, I can look back over my piece and find my worst performing paragraphs and remove them.

This not only helps me to ensure I present my best work to the teacher, it also forces me to admit that some of my writing is better than others. It keeps me critical of myself and always aiming for improvement.

Removing the worst paragraphs of an essay also ensures there are less boring, pointless or unanalytical sections of an essay. It means that the paragraphs I submit are the best sections – and that the teacher will be impressed throughout the piece.

To assess which paragraphs are best and worst, I do the following things:

  • Find the paragraphs with the least or worst references in them. Teachers will scan over a paragraph to assess the quality of the references in them. Paragraphs with minimal referencing, too much referencing of just one source, or only references to non-academic sources, instantly get marked down by the teacher before they’re even read. These are also often the paragraphs that provide the least depth of information. That is because finding sources to reference in a paragraph often leads to adding detail that the source has provided.
  • Find the paragraphs that are least convincing. When I re-read my paragraphs, sometimes I just think ‘the argument here is my weakest’. These are the ones I want to cut: they’re ones that won’t get me top marks. Teachers will lower your marks for any paragraph that doesn’t shine – so you’re best removing it.
  • Rate your paragraphs out of 10. I often tell my students to delete their three worst paragraphs and they say ‘I like all of them!’ In this case, you will have to get brutal with yourself: rate every paragraph out of 10. This will help you make the hard decisions about which to lose.
  • Combine two paragraphs into one. Sometimes I really like one sentence from a paragraph but don’t like the rest. If this is the case for you, have a go at extracting those good sentences from one paragraph and placing them in another one. Then, you can delete the not-so-good sentences from the original paragraph. If you do this, make sure all paragraphs still cohere around one key point.

2. Listen for Weaknesses using Google Translate or Microsoft Excel Read-out-Loud

Google Translate and Microsoft Excel both have read-out-loud options. Google Translate’s option is the easiest.

For Google Translate, simply search for ‘Google Translate’ on your internet search engine (or just click here ) to access it. Then, copy and paste the text into the translate box and press the ‘listen’ button:

screenshot of the google translate widget

For Microsoft Excel, you will need paste the whole essay into any cell and then activate the read out loud option.

This procedure is somewhat more complicated than Google Translate, but if you want to give it a go, you can get instructions from the Microsoft help website and go from there

Hearing your paper read out loud back to you can help you to identify which paragraphs or sentences are worth removing.

Here are some things to keep in mind while listening to the computer read your paper out loud to you:

  • If a sentence feels like it’s too long and exhausting to listen to, you can bet your teacher will be exhausted, too;
  • If a phrase seems awkward to hear, it will be awkward to read;
  • If the paper seems to have lost its focus on the topic area, you’ll need to remove that section or edit it to ensure it links to the essay question.

Pause the read-out-loud each time you find a sentence long or awkward and work on shortening it.

Too often, students think long, complicated sentences with fancy-sounding words will get them marks. In reality, it’s the opposite.

Being able to describe complex concepts in a very easy, understandable way is a skill all top students learn to master.

The read-out-loud option can help you to see your paper from your marker’s perspective. Use it to your advantage and listen out for anything that sounds complicated, confusing, awkward or exhausting. Delete it or shorten it immediately.

Remember, the goal is to have your paper sounding short and clear.

3. Re-Read the Marking Criteria

When editing your work, it is best to have the marking criteria by your side at all times.

The marking criteria is the list of things the teacher is looking for when marking your essay. Sometimes it’s also called:

  • Marking Criteria;
  • Indicative Content;
  • Marking Rubric;
  • Learning Outcomes

These should be easy to find. Go to your course webpage (usually on Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle depending on your university) and find where your teacher has provided details about your assessment. If there are marking criteria, this is where it would be.

Sometimes, teachers don’t provide marking criteria.

If the teacher has simply provided an essay topic or question, that means the chances are they don’t have a list of outcomes they are marking your piece against. In these instances, you will have to simply rely on the essay question.

When you have your marking criteria or essay question by your side, read each paragraph then look back to your marking criteria.

You need to ask yourself:

  • Does this paragraph directly answer the essay question or marking criteria?
  • Does this paragraph add new information that helps me answer the essay question?

If your paragraph is not linked directly to the essay question or marking criteria, you’ve just identified the paragraph you need to remove to reduce your word count.

4. Shorten Paragraphs over 7 Sentences Long

Teachers hate long paragraphs. Teachers are just like you and me. They get bored very fast.

Chances are, any paragraph over 7 sentences isn’t being fully read. The teacher might have only read the first three sentences and made their judgement about your work based on those three sentences!

That’s why the ideal paragraph should be between 4 and 7 sentences long. This length helps to ensure:

  • You haven’t gone off on a tangent;
  • You have provided some explanatory or example sentences, but not too many;
  • You have focused only on one key idea in the paragraph.

Your paragraphs that are more than 7 sentences long will be your low-hanging fruit for reducing your word count. Read through each of these paragraphs and try to find a way to reduce it to only 6 sentences. Find those sentences that seem to drag on or add nothing useful to your discussion and delete them.

By reducing all paragraphs over 7 sentences long, you won’t only bring your word count down. You will also make your essay much clearer and easy to read.

In this way, you’re both reducing your word count and increasing your mark.

5. Delete Irrelevant Words

Going through your paper and deleting irrelevant words can often save you several hundred words and could shorten your essay enough to get you back within the required word count.

Irrelevant words are words that are overly descriptive, redundant, too emotive, or in first-person. These words tend to get the same point across in far more words than necessary.

Furthermore, you will find that in removing overly descriptive, redundant, emotive and first-person words, your work will be much improved.

This is because academic writing is supposed to be formal and direct. Writing too many words can make your marker think you have poor communication skills and do not understand academic writing requirements.

Check below for examples of how to reduce your word count by removing overly descriptive, redundant, overly emotive and first-person language.

  • Overly Descriptive: The amazing thing about the industrial revolution was that it brought about enormous changes to the ways people transported themselves and communicated across the globe in such a short amount of time.
  • Alternative: The industrial revolution brought about rapid changes in transportation and communication globally.
  • Redundant: The sum of five hundred dollars.
  • Alternative: $500
  • Redundant: It was quite unique.
  • Alternative: It was unique.
  • Redundant: It was triangular in shape.
  • Alternative: It was triangular.
  • Too Emotive: The disgusting thing about communism is that it refuses to allow poor everyday people to improve their lives by creating their own businesses that might flourish and really help our their communities, too!
  • Alternative: Communism prevents citizens from starting businesses that can help bring people and their communities out of poverty.
  • In first Person: In summary, I believe that the Industrial Revolution was good for the whole world.
  • Alternative: In summary, the Industrial Revolution was good for the world.
  • In first Person: This author argues that Thomas Edison was the greatest mind of his time.
  • Alternative: Thomas Edison was the greatest mind of his time.

Making your essay shorter can sometimes be an absolute nightmare.

By following the above five steps, you can find easy ways to reduce your word count while also improving your work.

If you are an advanced or ambitious student, you might find that you always go over the word count. This isn’t necessarily a problem.

Try to look at going over the word count as a positive thing. Going over the word count means you have the freedom to only present your best work. You have the chance to delete anything that isn’t absolutely focused on gaining you marks.

In the end, your final submission will be cleaner, easier to read and easier to mark. Hopefully, this will see your marks growing even more!

Let’s review one more time the five top ways the best students reduce their word count in an essay:

Five Top Ways to Make an Essay Shorter

  • Delete your three Worst Paragraphs
  • Use Google Translate or Microsoft Excel to Read your Paper out Loud
  • Re-Read the Marking Criteria
  • Shorten Paragraphs over 6 Sentences Long
  • Delete Irrelevant Words


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 5 Top Tips for Succeeding at University
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 50 Durable Goods Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 100 Consumer Goods Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 30 Globalization Pros and Cons

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How to shorten an essay (2022 Top Expert Guide)

Table of Contents

 What comes to a naive mind when dwelling on “ how to shorten an essay ” is that, it is a tedious and meticulous task. 

How to shorten an essay

Shortening an essay is not difficult when you grab the right tips and tricks. These are the best common ways to make your assigned essay shorter in terms of pages. Some of these methods may reduce the essay by three or four pages. Some may cause more pages, and some may create a more elusive outcome. 

Experiment with your submission and find the ideal combination. Do not worry about the assignment due date; focus on the cat.

The five best ways to make an essay shorter include: 

1. Start with a thesis statement. A good thesis statement is the foundation of a well-rounded paper. When you begin your essay, make a clear statement. Be able to back that statement up if necessary, but be prepared to argue for it in a strong sense. Avoid the sentence “I believe that X.” Instead, state a thesis to help the reader understand exactly how you feel and why. 

2. Read your essay out loud. This will help you find areas that need improvement, and it will keep you aware of the pace of this activity. 

3. Take notes. It is easy to get caught up in this activity and lose sight of what else needs to be done. Make a note of the best ideas that come to you while doing this research activity. 

4. When writing the thesis, write down how you will prove or support it. Read your essay aloud again, and look for areas where you need more information. 

5. If your project is expository, the most commonly misunderstood aspect is the conclusion. You need to write the conclusion at the end of your project. Make sure it is clear, concise, and to the point. 

how to shorten an essay by 100 words


Can we shorten our essays through paraphrasing? Yes, we can. However, many students mistake rewording what they learn in the book. To create a properly-written paraphrase, you need to understand the original text and also be careful to maintain its organization. 

Paraphrasing language that is poor, vague, or missing essential details can have a significant impact on the audience. To write a good paraphrase, you need to practice and review it before publishing.

 The best way to write a good paraphrase is that the writer expresses his ideas in his own words. While paraphrasing, ensure your reader understands what you mean by your sentences and writing.

Write More Concisely – Tips to Shorten Your Essay

Need help on how to shorten an essay ? Shortening your essay is not a difficult thing to do, but it might require some effort. You will have a concise and engaging essay if you follow these steps!

Here are eight proven tips to shorten your essay:

1. Use simple, everyday words. Don’t try to conceal yourself behind big words. They will only exacerbate your flaws. 

2. Remove any unnecessary words.

Examine your adverbs (strongly, gratuitously), adjectives (large, great), and qualifiers (very, somewhat). The majority of the words you don’t need can be found here. Consider whether they are necessary. If not, get rid of them.

3. Avoid using nominalization.

How many times have you suffocated a verb by making it a noun? 

(delude – delusion, exclude – exclusion, contract – contraction) Stop it!

4. Avoid using these five words too close to a verb.

Desist from using the words’ take,’ ‘give, “make,’ ‘conduct,’ and ‘come’ too close to a verb or a nominalized verb phrase. They detract from the clarity of your sentences. 

Example: ‘The organization needs to take the defects into consideration.’  should be  ‘The organization needs to consider the defects.’ 

Other tips to shorten your essay include:

5. Make use of strong, specific verbs and nouns. This allows you to avoid using the passive voice, cut down on wordiness, and eliminate modifiers and qualifiers.

6. Make use of the active voice.

You must use the active voice if you follow plain language rules. It assists you in simplifying your message and saying precisely what you want to say. The active voice eliminates uncertainty. We are always aware of who is doing what. The Hemingway App assists you in identifying passive voice.

7. Avoid using jargon.

Overused phrases in a company or industry lose all meaning. Please refrain from using the terms’ like, ‘think outside the box,’ ‘win-win situation,’ ‘low-hanging fruit,’ and ‘pushing the envelope.’ Your readers will ignore you if you don’t say what you mean.

8. Avoid using verbs that require you to ‘tell.’

When used to describe something, these ten verbs will unnecessarily increase your word count. 

These ten verbs are appeared, mused, seemed, thought, wondered, seemed, felt, decided, heard, and realized. Stay away from them.

Shortening an essay requires a lot of focus, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Try out these tips, and soon you’ll be able to significantly shorten your essay without removing any significant content from the piece.

Think about your essay like a puzzle. You can add and subtract individual pieces to make the picture stronger. 

How to shorten an essay (2022 Top Expert Guide)

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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How to Shorten a College Essay to Meet the Word Limit

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

The college application essay is one of the most important components of applying to college. Application essays require a lot of time and effort, so you want to make sure you don’t make easy-to-overlook mistakes such as going over your college application word count.

Unfortunately, many students leave their admissions essay as the last step of their application process after studying for the SAT and learning how to request letters of recommendation. High school students don’t have the time, energy, experience, or organizational skills to prioritize their essay word count and word limits when writing their draft and receiving personal statement editing , recommendation letter editing , or cover letter editing , depending on your admissions documents. 

The good news is that being over the word limit in your admissions essay is not the end of the world. You’ve managed to output a lot of writing for your college essay. That’s a good starting point for revisions. All quality and successful admissions essays  go through the revision process, and a big part of the revision process includes reducing word count.

common app essay word limit, man looking at wall of ideas

This article will explore the following topics:

How flexible is the college essay word limit?

  • Can you go over/under the college essay word count?
  • Why staying under application essay word limits is so hard
  • How to shorten the length of your admissions essay
  • Get help to cut down your college essay word count
  • FAQ about how to shorten your essay length: Advice from editing experts

Your essay must stay within the required word limit whether you’re applying directly to your university or through the Common Application, which has become synonymous with the college application process. 

The Common App specifies the word limit required for each essay. Even though this has changed over the years– from 650 to 500 words in the past –the current Common App essay word count is somewhere between 250 to 650 words. 

Can you go over the essay word limit?

You must be careful about staying within the word limit for each application. Look at the essay prompts closely. Unless specified,  never go over the word limit for a college application essay .

It might be impossible to go over the essay word limit

Some universities may allow you to mail in a copy of your admissions essay, but most will use online applications with text fields that may cut off your essay if it goes over the maximum word count.

Admissions officers may just stop reading or toss out your essay

Admissions officers are busier than Santa’s elves during the winter holiday season. They read dozens if not hundreds of essays per day, and most of those will be rejected. If you fail your application, make sure it’s due to the content or something else; failing due to a simple word limit mistake would be a waste!

Following directions is a key component of being a student

If you told someone to do something and you were in the position to enforce it, would you accept the wrong result if 100 other people were waiting and did it right? Of course not. Therefore, the least you can do is to follow any instructions regarding college essay word limits to show admissions officers you will be a competent student at their school.

common app essay word limit, word blocks

Can you go under the essay word limit?

While going over the word limit is a clear and decisive issue, it’s a bit trickier to determine how short your college application essay should be. 

Pay attention to minimum word limits and word ranges 

Some essay prompts will have a suggested minimum– for example, 500 to 650 words. As mentioned above, online text input fields may cut you off at the maximum word count. Some may even have some red text reminding you to input at least 500 words. But you should always double-check these word count guidelines.

The essay is your opportunity to shine

Why would you be so lazy as to only write the minimum amount for your personal statement? This is a great opportunity for you to stand above and apart from other applicants, and choosing your words wisely while presenting your story fully is important.

Add some concrete examples

Examples of events and actions can help you meet the correct word count range. This also reduces redundancy in your writing while reinforcing and supporting your main points. College admissions officers love to hear about your unique experiences.

Why do students find essay word limits difficult?

Why staying under essay word limits is so hard

We now know several reasons why keeping your college essay length in the correct word range so you don’t violate any word limit is important. But  why is staying under essay word limits so hard? 

The essay has no structure or organization

The most effective things are stated simply. And the most effective college admissions essays organize, structure, and communicate efficiently. That doesn’t mean your personal statement will be short; it means that each point should be concise. 

For example, split your writing into clear paragraphs. Organize your essay into separate sections for your academic, leadership, volunteer, and personal experiences. Be sure to add a section on extracurricular activities. Make your structure clear to the reader so that word count will only be a minor consideration. 

The essay does not focus on the essay prompt

If you are having difficulty cutting your word count, look for sentences or even entire paragraphs that are not relevant to the essay prompt. Adding unnecessary information is an easy trap to fall into. Your anecdotes or stories might be interesting and funny, but do they help illustrate why you want to attend UC or Stanford? 

The essay lacks proper vocabulary and verb usage

This tip is more subtle but can really help you reduce essay length and word count. When writing, always use the most appropriate verb, preferably one verb only. It will drastically reduce your word count overall. This is because when you choose the wrong verb, you often must add more words to clarify. 

Average/Wordy:   “I hit the ball so hard it went over the fence.” 

Exceptional/Concise:  “I smashed the ball over the fence.”

The verb “hit” is a solely descriptive action verb. It provides no context about the degree to which you hit the ball, which is why “so hard” or other adverbs are naturally added to regular verbs to provide extra information. Changing the verb completely to something more engaging like “smashed” provides all the context you need. And you just saved 4 out of 11 words!

The essay uses a traditional introduction/conclusion structure

Many students applying to college fall into the trap of trying to fit their essay into a traditional structure consisting of an introduction, body, and conclusion.

With only 650 words, you can recover your word count by skipping the formal rigid essay structure. Instead, dive right into your essay. Your content and experiences are the most important components of your application essay, and you need every word.

Tips to reduce the length of your application essay

Here are some simple tips to cut down the length of your essay. Start with some broad admissions essay tips  first and move on to the easier grammar and proofreading-related steps below.

Remove adverbs

Here’s how to find if your admissions essay has a lot of adverbs: Look for “ly” words around your verbs. Often, these types of adverbs are just filler words and a reflection of spoken conversational English rather than accomplishing anything meaningful. Go through your essay and decide if each adverb is truly necessary. 

Unnecessary adverbs:   “ate quickly”, “ran quickly”

Stronger verbs:   “devoured”, “rushed”

Here is a list of common adverbs you can remove to reduce your essay’s word count:

common -ly adverbs for essays

Remove filler words

Filler words are another crutch or may just be used out of habit. Go through your essay right now with “ctrl + f” or “cmd + f” for Mac users and delete every instance of  actually  and  very.  We promise they add nothing important to your writing. 


Filler words:  “I found myself actually surprised about how much I learned”

No filler words:  “I was surprised at how much I learned”

The word “actually” is pretty much useless. You must clearly state that you were surprised. Further, “finding yourself” is a conversational filler that comes off as unprofessional.

Avoid using too many prepositional phrases

Prepositions are common linking words such as  of ,  to ,  for ,  by ,  from ,  in , and  on . These are highly dependent on the context of your personal statement, especially when you reference narrative elements in your past. Go through your essay carefully and make changes to reword your sentences and cut down your essay word count.

Too many prepositional phrases:  “I struggled to work in a team in order to get a good grade in the group project”

Fewer prepositional phrases:  “I struggled with the team aspect of the group project”

There’s no need to verbalize that you worked in a team or to mention the grad aspect. Furthermore, these prepositional phrases add extra length to your sentences, which will not help you meet the essay word count.

Be clear and concise. Cut down your word count.

Be direct and decisive in your writing

Students are often told to avoid overgeneralizing groups of people or ideas but that they should also be precise in their English writing. This can lead to the author failing to commit to a concept and coming off as unsure or weak.

An overreliance on modifier words such as adjectives and adverbs is often the culprit. 

Too many modifiers:  “Although my high school grades were  sometimes   slightly  less than average, I  was able to  outperform  many  of my classmates, who often struggled to improve.”

Stronger verbs and adjectives:  “Although my high school grades were inconsistent, I later outperformed my classmates, who struggled to improve.”

You can see how the improved version appears more matter-of-fact, consistent, and even confident despite the admission of lower grades. 

Don’t be a narrator 

Do not waste time restating the common app essay prompt or telling the reader what you will discuss next. This would be fine for an informative article (like the one you’re reading now), but not for an application essay. Eliminating these structural road markers will greatly cut down your word count.

Too much narration:  “I will start by discussing my leadership experiences…” or “The next important part of my academic background was my….”

Less narration:  “I gained leadership experience when…” or “One of my academic achievements was…”

Consider college essay editors for extra help

Get help from a professional college essay editor

The college admissions and application essay landscape is very competitive, and this has led students to seek an edge. One reason why application essay editing services are so popular is due to their speed and quality. They free up students to prepare more college applications and focus on the content of their personal statements instead of drilling down things like grammar and essay word limits.

One of the best things applicants can do is write as many college admissions essays as possible without worrying at all about grammar or word count. Organize your essays by the essay prompt category (e.g. “Why X university?” or “Tell us about an obstacle you overcame”).

Then, send ONE type of each essay to a reputable proofreading company that offers  college essay editing services . When you get your changes back, apply them to all essays of that category. This minimizes the cost but gets you the most benefits. 

How to Shorten Your College Admissions Essay--light bulbs hanging

FAQ: How to shorten your admissions essay

Advice from our editing experts , can a college essay be longer than 650 words.

  • The standard word count for the Common app essay is 650 words. Rule 1) Follow any explicit word limit guidelines. Rule 2) Always go under the limit as opposed to over the word limit.

Can you use contractions and abbreviations in college essays?

  • Yes. For college application essays, use contractions and abbreviations. 

Do citations count towards the college essay word limit?

  • Every word in the text field or on your page counts towards the essay word limit. Avoid using citations in a college essay as it is not an academic paper.

Does the title count towards the college essay word limit?

  • Do not restate the essay prompt or add a title to your essay. If you are submitting a separate MS Word document, add the title or essay prompt (along with your name) as the .doc name. 

How many pages is 650 words?

  • A 650-word college application essay will be under 1 page.

How do you shorten long sentences?

  • Start by 1) eliminating helper verbs and adverbs, 2) removing redundancy, 3) remove filler words such as “very” and “actually,” and 4) make sure every sentence supports the overall point of the paragraph.

How many paragraphs is a 650-word essay?

  • A 500-word essay is 3 to 4 paragraphs. A 650-word essay is 4-5 paragraphs. Your essay should be less than 1 page single or double-spaced.

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

How to Shorten an Essay?

Essay writing can be very challenging. A student who’s writing an essay should come up with the right logical structure, figure out what types of evidence you’re going to use, choose an appropriate style, etc. Besides, all this hard work may lead to a moment of frustration.

You may put a lot of effort into writing your brilliant draft, and then you may realize that you need to get rid of something to meet the word count requirements. The more effort you invest in the writing process, the more difficult it can be to figure out what you should remove.

No matter how challenging this task can be, educators think that students must be able to write concisely and avoid redundancy. Therefore, word count requirements can be very strict. For instance, when writing a college application essay , you should be able to fit all your thoughts into a 500-word limit.

While making your essay shorter, you should also make sure that it will still be impressive. To shorten your essay properly, you should know what to focus on, and this simple guide will help you.

How to reduce essay word count

  • Identify irrelevant content
  • Cut down on prepositions
  • Eliminate the sentences that don’t add value
  • Remove unnecessary modifiers and qualifiers
  • Remove weaker paragraphs
  • Eliminate redundant words and phrases
  • Merge sentences by combining their meaning

📌 Shorten your essay by removing irrelevant content

The key to shortening your essay without making it weaker is to make sure that everything that you write is perfectly relevant. However, it may not be easy to get rid of irrelevant content in your essay because if you didn’t consider it somewhat relevant, you wouldn’t include it, in the first place. If you want to get a good grade, you may add various details and explanations to make your essay more engaging.

Including some background information and details is actually a great solution if you want to impress your audience with an informative essay, but we recommend that you think twice before writing any additional information because you should also follow the word count requirements.

Ask yourself, do you really need to include this information? Is it perfectly relevant? Is it necessary to include when writing about your topic? Does it contribute to the overall meaning?

📌 Use prepositions moderately

Prepositions are very useful words because they can help you create a smooth flow of thoughts and put words together to communicate complex ideas. If you take a look at prepositional sentences in your essay, you may realize that many of such sentences won’t make any sense if you remove prepositions from them.

Although prepositional sentences can be very useful, they also have their flip side: they make your essay longer. Given that rewriting such sentences without prepositions can be impossible, a good solution is to remove such phrases completely.

📌 Apply the ‘zoom out’ technique

This approach can be very effective if you realize that you need to shorten your essay significantly. For instance, if you should shorten your essay by 200 or 300 words, this is the right approach. This method is quite simple.

The traditional college essay structure involves writing more general statements first and then adding more specific statements. By moving from general to specific, you can create a proper logical structure so there’s no surprise that many tutors and guides recommend this approach.

When editing your essay, you can see more or less specific information, and the most specific elements of your essay are examples. Although you may want to use more examples to make your essay more unique, if you need to shorten it, you can leave just a few vivid examples and get rid of all the other examples that are not really important.

Zoom out and paint the picture with broad strokes, focusing on the general information. This way, you might be able to shorten your essay considerably.

📌 Get rid of modifiers, qualifiers, adverbs and adjectives

Let’s face it, some verbs can be easily eliminated from your paper without ruining the context. It’s also important to keep in mind the importance of avoiding unnecessary generalization in essay writing. Unnecessary generalization makes your essay weaker. Qualifiers and modifiers can help you avoid generalizations by slightly changing the overall meaning of a sentence.

Words like “some,” “often,” “possibly,” “could,” “sometimes,” “completely,” and others can make your writing more nuanced. However, these words might also make your essay longer, and usually, you can remove them without changing the general meaning of the sentence. Therefore, we recommend that you don’t overuse such words when writing and remove some of them when editing.

📌 Remove the weakest paragraphs to reduce the word count

Another approach that can help you write a strong essay that meets strict word count requirements is to intentionally exceed the word limits when writing so that you can remove entire paragraphs when editing. This is especially helpful if you have to write a really short essay of 200 words .

A great thing about this approach is that you force yourself to admit that some things that you write are much better than others so you can consider your college essay from a teacher’s perspective.

You may want to remove paragraphs that lack references or have references to unreliable sources. You may also think of what paragraphs are the least convincing. Make sure to leave the strongest paragraphs that actually contribute to the topic and that can impress your audience.

📌 Remove redundant words to stay under a word limit

When writing your paper, you may use some unnecessary words that don’t add any meaning. For example, here is a sentence that can be shortened easily: “When writing essays, you should make your essays concise so they won’t be too long.” Here, you can remove the second word “essays,” as well as the end of the sentence because if your essay is concise, it means that it isn’t too long.

For instance, a shortened sentence may look like this: “When writing essays, you should make them concise.” Although the new sentence is just a little shorter, if you remove redundant words in the entire essay, the difference in length might surprise you.

📌 Merge sentences by combining their meaning

To shorten your essay without damaging it, you should make sure that you convey your thoughts concisely. Concise writing will not only help you meet all the requirements but also make your essay more straightforward and easy to read. When editing your essay, pay attention to consecutive sentences that focus on the same idea.

Try to say the same with fewer words by combining the meaning of two sentences and merging them into one. Just make sure that the final sentence isn’t too long because long complex sentences will make your essay difficult to read.

No matter if you’re a high school, college or university student, the writing process is difficult by itself, and it can be especially difficult when dealing with strict requirements regarding the word count. In this helpful guide, we considered a few effective methods that can help you shorten your essay without damaging its meaning.

There are many things you can get rid of while also keeping your academic paper informative and impressive. Moreover, shortening and eliminating unnecessary things can help you improve your essay, making it easier to read, straightforward, logically consistent and more digestible for a reader.

In case if shortening an essay seems like an unbearable task, you can turn to an essay writing company to get it written from scratch or copy-edited down to the required word count.

  • EXPLORE Random Article

How to Avoid Going Over an Essay Word Limit

Last Updated: July 11, 2022 Approved

This article was co-authored by Diane Stubbs . Diane Stubbs is a Secondary English Teacher with over 22 years of experience teaching all high school grade levels and AP courses. She specializes in secondary education, classroom management, and educational technology. Diane earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware and a Master of Education from Wesley College. There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 100% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 259,576 times.

Many people have trouble writing an essay to a specified length. It can be hard to keep the length of an essay in mind when you are writing quickly and focusing on putting your ideas into words. However, with some organization and attention to editing, you should be able to keep any essay under its assigned word limit. This guide will help you keep the quality of your essay strong while still respecting the word limit you were given.

Writing to a Specific Length

Step 1 Develop a clear...

  • For example, if your teacher gives you the prompt of "What is the most important invention of the 19th century?" your thesis statement could be "The most important invention of the 19th century was the steam engine."
  • Having a clear thesis statement helps you to focus your writing. This allows you to minimize rambling and off-topic sections that could lengthen your essay unnecessarily.

Step 2 Outline...

  • The number of points you will need to support will depend on how long your essay is supposed to be. Plan on only having two or three paragraphs per page. If you are writing a 2 to 3 page paper, you will likely only need a handful of points. If you are writing a 10 to 12 page paper, you will need a lot more points in your outline. [3] X Research source
  • Consider adding bullet-pointed thoughts under each of your main supporting points. This can help you start to build the structure of each of your paragraphs as you outline.

Step 3 Stay on topic.

  • For example, remove anecdotes that increase word count. Don't follow up side points from an anecdote just because they're interesting. All of the content of the essay should be there because it directly supports your thesis statement.
  • If you do accidentally go off on a tangent or an aside, cut them later. If you begin cutting content while you are writing the rough draft, you'll have less to work with in the end.

Step 4 Keep track of your word count as you go.

  • In Microsoft Word, select the "Tools" submenu from the Toolbar and then select "Word Count." [4] X Research source
  • In other programs, you may need to look in different places. You can typically use your "Help" menu to find the word count feature.
  • Alternatively, an online word counting tool will automatically display the number of words and characters.
  • Handwritten pages typically average about 100 to 200 words per page. The number of words on your pages depends on how big your writing is. [5] X Research source

Step 5 Proofread

  • Try reading the essay out loud to make sure that its words flow.
  • Have a peer or friend check your work and help remove the unnecessary additions. A neutral set of eyes can often prove helpful in spotting repetition.

Step 6 Place additional information at the end of your essay.

  • However, most teachers and professors frown on attempts to hide additional information in footnotes. Footnotes are meant to reference and occasionally bolster points, not to provide additional information that you couldn't cram in anywhere else.

Step 7 Sleep on it.

Reducing Your Word Count

Step 1 Reduce your word count after you have drafted your essay.

  • If you trim the excess after you have written your essay, you're more likely to have a clear and concise essay in the end.
  • Write first and edit later. If you constantly worry about word limits, you will often end up discarding ideas that add to your paper.

Step 2 Replace phrases with single words.

  • Verbs such as "ask for" or "put up with" can often be replaced with single verbs like "request" or "tolerate."
  • Replace "at the same time" with "simultaneously" and "by the same token" with "similarly."
  • The adverb "immediately" can be used in lieu of phrases such as "right now" and "as soon as."
  • Replace full clauses such as "It is clear that" and "It should be obvious that" with single adverbs such as "clearly," "obviously," or "evidently."
  • A sentence with "the reason why... is that..." can be rewritten with just the conjunction "because." For example: "The reason why ice floats is that..." becomes simply: "Ice floats because..."

Step 3 Take out words that do not change the meaning of your sentences.

  • In fact, taking extraneous words out makes your sentences stronger. For example, the statement "I am actually a great writer" sounds stronger when it is phrased simply as "I am a great writer."

Step 4 Avoid redundancies, also known as pleonasms.

  • Sentences such as "Where is she going to ?" and "Where is the house at ?" have unnecessary prepositions. They do not have to be overt if they aren't followed by the object in these constructions.

Step 5 Remove repetition.

  • Decide when you will make each of your points and only mention them there. If you find yourself mentioning a point repeatedly and it doesn't do anything to support that specific paragraph, then delete it.

Step 6 Avoid excessive hedging.

  • An example of too much hedging is: "There is a chance that the man might possibly come today." This sentence sounds better as: "There is a chance that the man will come today."
  • "I think that" is often an unnecessary form of hedging. Instead of writing, "I think that," give the reason why you think so. For example, just state that "Variable A will likely increase variable B because...."

Step 7 Try removing the first sentence from your paragraphs.

  • You can also work on combining the first and second sentences of your paragraphs. Sometimes you can combine them and reduce your word count, while still retaining the underlying meaning of both of them.

Step 8 Don't become overly attached to your writing.

  • Cut excess ideas but don't delete them completely if you think they have merit. Place them in a new document for another essay or for free writing inspiration.

Expert Q&A

Diane Stubbs

  • Many teachers place a word limit as a general guideline, not as an exact rule. If this is the case, then going over a little bit won't be a major problem. What teachers don't want are gigantic papers that have not been edited or well thought out. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • While passive voice has a place, particularly in the methods sections of scientific papers, you should generally avoid it. Even if it allows you to save a word here or there on the length of your paper, the passive voice tends to make your writing less clear and direct, and your tone more stilted and formal. Use sparingly if your aim is to write with clarity and concision. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

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  • ↑ http://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/thesis-statements/
  • ↑ https://essaysnark.com/2011/10/tips-on-cutting-it-down-to-size-overlimit-essays/
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/606/02/
  • ↑ https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Show-the-word-count-and-more-3c9e6a11-a04d-43b4-977c-563a0e0d5da3
  • ↑ https://www.reference.com/education/many-handwritten-pages-equal-one-typed
  • ↑ http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/diagnostic/writingtoolong/writingtoolong-23b
  • ↑ https://targetstudy.com/one-word-substitution/
  • ↑ http://grammarist.com/redundancies/
  • ↑ https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/essay-editing-tips.html

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  • The Case for Marrying an Older Man

A woman’s life is all work and little rest. An age gap relationship can help.

how to shorten an essay by 100 words

In the summer, in the south of France, my husband and I like to play, rather badly, the lottery. We take long, scorching walks to the village — gratuitous beauty, gratuitous heat — kicking up dust and languid debates over how we’d spend such an influx. I purchase scratch-offs, jackpot tickets, scraping the former with euro coins in restaurants too fine for that. I never cash them in, nor do I check the winning numbers. For I already won something like the lotto, with its gifts and its curses, when he married me.

He is ten years older than I am. I chose him on purpose, not by chance. As far as life decisions go, on balance, I recommend it.

When I was 20 and a junior at Harvard College, a series of great ironies began to mock me. I could study all I wanted, prove myself as exceptional as I liked, and still my fiercest advantage remained so universal it deflated my other plans. My youth. The newness of my face and body. Compellingly effortless; cruelly fleeting. I shared it with the average, idle young woman shrugging down the street. The thought, when it descended on me, jolted my perspective, the way a falling leaf can make you look up: I could diligently craft an ideal existence, over years and years of sleepless nights and industry. Or I could just marry it early.

So naturally I began to lug a heavy suitcase of books each Saturday to the Harvard Business School to work on my Nabokov paper. In one cavernous, well-appointed room sat approximately 50 of the planet’s most suitable bachelors. I had high breasts, most of my eggs, plausible deniability when it came to purity, a flush ponytail, a pep in my step that had yet to run out. Apologies to Progress, but older men still desired those things.

I could not understand why my female classmates did not join me, given their intelligence. Each time I reconsidered the project, it struck me as more reasonable. Why ignore our youth when it amounted to a superpower? Why assume the burdens of womanhood, its too-quick-to-vanish upper hand, but not its brief benefits at least? Perhaps it came easier to avoid the topic wholesale than to accept that women really do have a tragically short window of power, and reason enough to take advantage of that fact while they can. As for me, I liked history, Victorian novels, knew of imminent female pitfalls from all the books I’d read: vampiric boyfriends; labor, at the office and in the hospital, expected simultaneously; a decline in status as we aged, like a looming eclipse. I’d have disliked being called calculating, but I had, like all women, a calculator in my head. I thought it silly to ignore its answers when they pointed to an unfairness for which we really ought to have been preparing.

I was competitive by nature, an English-literature student with all the corresponding major ambitions and minor prospects (Great American novel; email job). A little Bovarist , frantic for new places and ideas; to travel here, to travel there, to be in the room where things happened. I resented the callow boys in my class, who lusted after a particular, socially sanctioned type on campus: thin and sexless, emotionally detached and socially connected, the opposite of me. Restless one Saturday night, I slipped on a red dress and snuck into a graduate-school event, coiling an HDMI cord around my wrist as proof of some technical duty. I danced. I drank for free, until one of the organizers asked me to leave. I called and climbed into an Uber. Then I promptly climbed out of it. For there he was, emerging from the revolving doors. Brown eyes, curved lips, immaculate jacket. I went to him, asked him for a cigarette. A date, days later. A second one, where I discovered he was a person, potentially my favorite kind: funny, clear-eyed, brilliant, on intimate terms with the universe.

I used to love men like men love women — that is, not very well, and with a hunger driven only by my own inadequacies. Not him. In those early days, I spoke fondly of my family, stocked the fridge with his favorite pasta, folded his clothes more neatly than I ever have since. I wrote his mother a thank-you note for hosting me in his native France, something befitting a daughter-in-law. It worked; I meant it. After graduation and my fellowship at Oxford, I stayed in Europe for his career and married him at 23.

Of course I just fell in love. Romances have a setting; I had only intervened to place myself well. Mainly, I spotted the precise trouble of being a woman ahead of time, tried to surf it instead of letting it drown me on principle. I had grown bored of discussions of fair and unfair, equal or unequal , and preferred instead to consider a thing called ease.

The reception of a particular age-gap relationship depends on its obviousness. The greater and more visible the difference in years and status between a man and a woman, the more it strikes others as transactional. Transactional thinking in relationships is both as American as it gets and the least kosher subject in the American romantic lexicon. When a 50-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman walk down the street, the questions form themselves inside of you; they make you feel cynical and obscene: How good of a deal is that? Which party is getting the better one? Would I take it? He is older. Income rises with age, so we assume he has money, at least relative to her; at minimum, more connections and experience. She has supple skin. Energy. Sex. Maybe she gets a Birkin. Maybe he gets a baby long after his prime. The sight of their entwined hands throws a lucid light on the calculations each of us makes, in love, to varying degrees of denial. You could get married in the most romantic place in the world, like I did, and you would still have to sign a contract.

Twenty and 30 is not like 30 and 40; some freshness to my features back then, some clumsiness in my bearing, warped our decade, in the eyes of others, to an uncrossable gulf. Perhaps this explains the anger we felt directed at us at the start of our relationship. People seemed to take us very, very personally. I recall a hellish car ride with a friend of his who began to castigate me in the backseat, in tones so low that only I could hear him. He told me, You wanted a rich boyfriend. You chased and snuck into parties . He spared me the insult of gold digger, but he drew, with other words, the outline for it. Most offended were the single older women, my husband’s classmates. They discussed me in the bathroom at parties when I was in the stall. What does he see in her? What do they talk about? They were concerned about me. They wielded their concern like a bludgeon. They paraphrased without meaning to my favorite line from Nabokov’s Lolita : “You took advantage of my disadvantage,” suspecting me of some weakness he in turn mined. It did not disturb them, so much, to consider that all relationships were trades. The trouble was the trade I’d made struck them as a bad one.

The truth is you can fall in love with someone for all sorts of reasons, tiny transactions, pluses and minuses, whose sum is your affection for each other, your loyalty, your commitment. The way someone picks up your favorite croissant. Their habit of listening hard. What they do for you on your anniversary and your reciprocal gesture, wrapped thoughtfully. The serenity they inspire; your happiness, enlivening it. When someone says they feel unappreciated, what they really mean is you’re in debt to them.

When I think of same-age, same-stage relationships, what I tend to picture is a woman who is doing too much for too little.

I’m 27 now, and most women my age have “partners.” These days, girls become partners quite young. A partner is supposed to be a modern answer to the oppression of marriage, the terrible feeling of someone looming over you, head of a household to which you can only ever be the neck. Necks are vulnerable. The problem with a partner, however, is if you’re equal in all things, you compromise in all things. And men are too skilled at taking .

There is a boy out there who knows how to floss because my friend taught him. Now he kisses college girls with fresh breath. A boy married to my friend who doesn’t know how to pack his own suitcase. She “likes to do it for him.” A million boys who know how to touch a woman, who go to therapy because they were pushed, who learned fidelity, boundaries, decency, manners, to use a top sheet and act humanely beneath it, to call their mothers, match colors, bring flowers to a funeral and inhale, exhale in the face of rage, because some girl, some girl we know, some girl they probably don’t speak to and will never, ever credit, took the time to teach him. All while she was working, raising herself, clawing up the cliff-face of adulthood. Hauling him at her own expense.

I find a post on Reddit where five thousand men try to define “ a woman’s touch .” They describe raised flower beds, blankets, photographs of their loved ones, not hers, sprouting on the mantel overnight. Candles, coasters, side tables. Someone remembering to take lint out of the dryer. To give compliments. I wonder what these women are getting back. I imagine them like Cinderella’s mice, scurrying around, their sole proof of life their contributions to a more central character. On occasion I meet a nice couple, who grew up together. They know each other with a fraternalism tender and alien to me.  But I think of all my friends who failed at this, were failed at this, and I think, No, absolutely not, too risky . Riskier, sometimes, than an age gap.

My younger brother is in his early 20s, handsome, successful, but in many ways: an endearing disaster. By his age, I had long since wisened up. He leaves his clothes in the dryer, takes out a single shirt, steams it for three minutes. His towel on the floor, for someone else to retrieve. His lovely, same-age girlfriend is aching to fix these tendencies, among others. She is capable beyond words. Statistically, they will not end up together. He moved into his first place recently, and she, the girlfriend, supplied him with a long, detailed list of things he needed for his apartment: sheets, towels, hangers, a colander, which made me laugh. She picked out his couch. I will bet you anything she will fix his laundry habits, and if so, they will impress the next girl. If they break up, she will never see that couch again, and he will forget its story. I tell her when I visit because I like her, though I get in trouble for it: You shouldn’t do so much for him, not for someone who is not stuck with you, not for any boy, not even for my wonderful brother.

Too much work had left my husband, by 30, jaded and uninspired. He’d burned out — but I could reenchant things. I danced at restaurants when they played a song I liked. I turned grocery shopping into an adventure, pleased by what I provided. Ambitious, hungry, he needed someone smart enough to sustain his interest, but flexible enough in her habits to build them around his hours. I could. I do: read myself occupied, make myself free, materialize beside him when he calls for me. In exchange, I left a lucrative but deadening spreadsheet job to write full-time, without having to live like a writer. I learned to cook, a little, and decorate, somewhat poorly. Mostly I get to read, to walk central London and Miami and think in delicious circles, to work hard, when necessary, for free, and write stories for far less than minimum wage when I tally all the hours I take to write them.

At 20, I had felt daunted by the project of becoming my ideal self, couldn’t imagine doing it in tandem with someone, two raw lumps of clay trying to mold one another and only sullying things worse. I’d go on dates with boys my age and leave with the impression they were telling me not about themselves but some person who didn’t exist yet and on whom I was meant to bet regardless. My husband struck me instead as so finished, formed. Analyzable for compatibility. He bore the traces of other women who’d improved him, small but crucial basics like use a coaster ; listen, don’t give advice. Young egos mellow into patience and generosity.

My husband isn’t my partner. He’s my mentor, my lover, and, only in certain contexts, my friend. I’ll never forget it, how he showed me around our first place like he was introducing me to myself: This is the wine you’ll drink, where you’ll keep your clothes, we vacation here, this is the other language we’ll speak, you’ll learn it, and I did. Adulthood seemed a series of exhausting obligations. But his logistics ran so smoothly that he simply tacked mine on. I moved into his flat, onto his level, drag and drop, cleaner thrice a week, bills automatic. By opting out of partnership in my 20s, I granted myself a kind of compartmentalized, liberating selfishness none of my friends have managed. I am the work in progress, the party we worry about, a surprising dominance. When I searched for my first job, at 21, we combined our efforts, for my sake. He had wisdom to impart, contacts with whom he arranged coffees; we spent an afternoon, laughing, drawing up earnest lists of my pros and cons (highly sociable; sloppy math). Meanwhile, I took calls from a dear friend who had a boyfriend her age. Both savagely ambitious, hyperclose and entwined in each other’s projects. If each was a start-up , the other was the first hire, an intense dedication I found riveting. Yet every time she called me, I hung up with the distinct feeling that too much was happening at the same time: both learning to please a boss; to forge more adult relationships with their families; to pay bills and taxes and hang prints on the wall. Neither had any advice to give and certainly no stability. I pictured a three-legged race, two people tied together and hobbling toward every milestone.

I don’t fool myself. My marriage has its cons. There are only so many times one can say “thank you” — for splendid scenes, fine dinners — before the phrase starts to grate. I live in an apartment whose rent he pays and that shapes the freedom with which I can ever be angry with him. He doesn’t have to hold it over my head. It just floats there, complicating usual shorthands to explain dissatisfaction like, You aren’t being supportive lately . It’s a Frenchism to say, “Take a decision,” and from time to time I joke: from whom? Occasionally I find myself in some fabulous country at some fabulous party and I think what a long way I have traveled, like a lucky cloud, and it is frightening to think of oneself as vapor.

Mostly I worry that if he ever betrayed me and I had to move on, I would survive, but would find in my humor, preferences, the way I make coffee or the bed nothing that he did not teach, change, mold, recompose, stamp with his initials, the way Renaissance painters hid in their paintings their faces among a crowd. I wonder if when they looked at their paintings, they saw their own faces first. But this is the wrong question, if our aim is happiness. Like the other question on which I’m expected to dwell: Who is in charge, the man who drives or the woman who put him there so she could enjoy herself? I sit in the car, in the painting it would have taken me a corporate job and 20 years to paint alone, and my concern over who has the upper hand becomes as distant as the horizon, the one he and I made so wide for me.

To be a woman is to race against the clock, in several ways, until there is nothing left to be but run ragged.

We try to put it off, but it will hit us at some point: that we live in a world in which our power has a different shape from that of men, a different distribution of advantage, ours a funnel and theirs an expanding cone. A woman at 20 rarely has to earn her welcome; a boy at 20 will be turned away at the door. A woman at 30 may find a younger woman has taken her seat; a man at 30 will have invited her. I think back to the women in the bathroom, my husband’s classmates. What was my relationship if not an inconvertible sign of this unfairness? What was I doing, in marrying older, if not endorsing it? I had taken advantage of their disadvantage. I had preempted my own. After all, principled women are meant to defy unfairness, to show some integrity or denial, not plan around it, like I had. These were driven women, successful, beautiful, capable. I merely possessed the one thing they had already lost. In getting ahead of the problem, had I pushed them down? If I hadn’t, would it really have made any difference?

When we decided we wanted to be equal to men, we got on men’s time. We worked when they worked, retired when they retired, had to squeeze pregnancy, children, menopause somewhere impossibly in the margins. I have a friend, in her late 20s, who wears a mood ring; these days it is often red, flickering in the air like a siren when she explains her predicament to me. She has raised her fair share of same-age boyfriends. She has put her head down, worked laboriously alongside them, too. At last she is beginning to reap the dividends, earning the income to finally enjoy herself. But it is now, exactly at this precipice of freedom and pleasure, that a time problem comes closing in. If she would like to have children before 35, she must begin her next profession, motherhood, rather soon, compromising inevitably her original one. The same-age partner, equally unsettled in his career, will take only the minimum time off, she guesses, or else pay some cost which will come back to bite her. Everything unfailingly does. If she freezes her eggs to buy time, the decision and its logistics will burden her singly — and perhaps it will not work. Overlay the years a woman is supposed to establish herself in her career and her fertility window and it’s a perfect, miserable circle. By midlife women report feeling invisible, undervalued; it is a telling cliché, that after all this, some husbands leave for a younger girl. So when is her time, exactly? For leisure, ease, liberty? There is no brand of feminism which achieved female rest. If women’s problem in the ’50s was a paralyzing malaise, now it is that they are too active, too capable, never permitted a vacation they didn’t plan. It’s not that our efforts to have it all were fated for failure. They simply weren’t imaginative enough.

For me, my relationship, with its age gap, has alleviated this rush , permitted me to massage the clock, shift its hands to my benefit. Very soon, we will decide to have children, and I don’t panic over last gasps of fun, because I took so many big breaths of it early: on the holidays of someone who had worked a decade longer than I had, in beautiful places when I was young and beautiful, a symmetry I recommend. If such a thing as maternal energy exists, mine was never depleted. I spent the last nearly seven years supported more than I support and I am still not as old as my husband was when he met me. When I have a child, I will expect more help from him than I would if he were younger, for what does professional tenure earn you if not the right to set more limits on work demands — or, if not, to secure some child care, at the very least? When I return to work after maternal upheaval, he will aid me, as he’s always had, with his ability to put himself aside, as younger men are rarely able.

Above all, the great gift of my marriage is flexibility. A chance to live my life before I become responsible for someone else’s — a lover’s, or a child’s. A chance to write. A chance at a destiny that doesn’t adhere rigidly to the routines and timelines of men, but lends itself instead to roomy accommodation, to the very fluidity Betty Friedan dreamed of in 1963 in The Feminine Mystique , but we’ve largely forgotten: some career or style of life that “permits year-to-year variation — a full-time paid job in one community, part-time in another, exercise of the professional skill in serious volunteer work or a period of study during pregnancy or early motherhood when a full-time job is not feasible.” Some things are just not feasible in our current structures. Somewhere along the way we stopped admitting that, and all we did was make women feel like personal failures. I dream of new structures, a world in which women have entry-level jobs in their 30s; alternate avenues for promotion; corporate ladders with balconies on which they can stand still, have a smoke, take a break, make a baby, enjoy themselves, before they keep climbing. Perhaps men long for this in their own way. Actually I am sure of that.

Once, when we first fell in love, I put my head in his lap on a long car ride; I remember his hands on my face, the sun, the twisting turns of a mountain road, surprising and not surprising us like our romance, and his voice, telling me that it was his biggest regret that I was so young, he feared he would lose me. Last week, we looked back at old photos and agreed we’d given each other our respective best years. Sometimes real equality is not so obvious, sometimes it takes turns, sometimes it takes almost a decade to reveal itself.

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