Writing

How Your Choice of Adjectives Make or Break Your Writing

Adjectives are words that qualify a noun or a pronoun – we use them to describe people, animals, places or objects. As such, adjectives make our writing clearer and much easier to understand.

However, articles filled with weak adjectives are regarded as weak writing because they fail to give readers much information about the nouns and pronouns they are describing in the writing.

Image credit: Pixabay

Hold up a minute! There are weak adjectives?

Yes, there are. Adjectives, like “hot”, “warm”, “good” and “nice” are considered weak adjectives because they are gradable, which means they can’t give your readers a precise description of the nouns or pronouns in your writing unless you replace them with stronger adjectives.

For instance, “hot” could mean as boiling as a heated frying pan, or it could mean as lukewarm as a mild weather. So, we wouldn’t know how hot the kettle is if you simply say, “the kettle is hot.”

Is the kettle boiling hot?

Or is it just warm?

Be specific.

Another disadvantage of filling your writing with weak adjectives is that the adjectives are more likely to confuse your readers than describe your nouns or pronouns accurately.

For example, while “hot” could be related to heat or a high temperature, it could also mean good-looking or physically attractive.

So, you can’t blame me if, while reading your article, I misinterpret “Susan is hot” as “Susan is sexy” when you actually meant “Susan has a fever” or “Susan has a temperature”.

All right, I get it now. So how do I deal with weak adjectives?

Hah! Glad you asked.
Well, the best way to deal with weak adjectives is to replace them with stronger adjectives, i.e., adjectives that give a precise description of how *insert weak adjective* something or someone is.

Many writers try to do this by placing “really”, “very” or “so” before the weak adjectives, but this doesn’t stop your readers from misinterpreting the exact message you’re trying to convey.

“Susan is very hot” will still be misinterpreted by your readers.

The best way to replace weak adjectives with stronger ones is to look up synonyms of the weak adjectives and pick the ones that are nearest in meaning to the quality you’re trying to describe.

(Specificity is key when using adjectives.)

Now, notice how replacing the weak adjectives in the following sentences with their stronger alternatives makes the sentences clearer and much easier to understand:

Original: Charles Denver is a very big man.

Very big” doesn’t tell us much about Charles Denver as it’s a weak adjective, thus, the sentence could be easily misinterpreted. “Very big” could mean a lot of things. In this sentence, “very big” could mean that Charles Denver is a popular or successful man, but it could also mean that he is (extremely) fat.

So, in this case, it’s best to replace “very big” with a stronger adjective that describes Charles Denver precisely.

Alternative: Charles Denver is a successful man OR Charles Denver is an obese man.

Other examples of weak adjectives and their alternatives are shown below:

  • I was very tired after the long walk home — I was exhausted [drained, shattered, worn out] after the long walk home.
  • Brittany hasn’t eaten all day and she’s very hungry — Brittany hasn’t eaten all day and she’s starving.
  • I didn’t let her touch me as her fingers were all very dirty — I didn’t let her touch me as her fingers were all mucky.
  • There was a very dirty rag on the couch when I came in – There was a filthy rag on the couch when I came in.
  • Your grades are very good this term! — Your grades are excellent this term!
  • That is a very good idea. – That is a great (amazing, wonderful) idea.
  • Alice is a very bad chef. Her meals taste really bad — Alice is a terrible chef. Her meals taste awful.
  • Grandma was really happy to have us over for Christmas — Grandma was thrilled to have us over for Christmas.
  • After seeing that horror movie, Joan and I have been really scared of the dark. — After seeing that horror movie, Joan and I have been terrified of the dark.

Conclusion

Using weak adjectives in your writing isn’t a grammatical error. After all, some things are simply “good” and some are simply “bad”. However, before you opt for those weak adjectives, check if your writing will be clearer if you replace them with stronger, specific adjectives.

So, whether your next writing is a blog post, a letter, or a research paper, in the process of editing your writing, look out for weak adjectives and see if replacing them with stronger adjectives will make your writing much better.

If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them in the comments. I’d also love to know if you have any editing tips regarding how adjectives affect our writing. I’d love to learn a thing or two from you.

Thank you for reading. Have a productive day!

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