Go easy on adjectives

Write mainly with nouns and verbs. Use adjectives only if they make your meaning more precise.

In Daily Mirror Style, Keith Waterhouse describes the journalist’s view of adjectives. He says:

Adjectives should not be allowed in newspapers unless they have something to say.

Writers think adjectives add colour to their words. They do. But colourful writing isn’t always easier to understand. In volume one of Editing and Writing, another newspaper journalist Harold Evans says adjectives give writing a superficial glitter.

He goes on to say:

Every adjective should be examined to see: is it needed to define the subject or is it there for emphasis?

Evans says “over-emphasis destroys credibility”.

Take care when using adjectives for emphasis. For example, the word ‘very’ adds nothing to a phrase. It can usually be left out without changing the meaning. The same usually applies to really, actually, rather and quite.

In practice many adjectives have no substance. You can remove most from your sentences. You won’t lose much, but you will gain clarity.

On a personal note, I’ve been paid to write by the word for many years. Loading my copy with lucrative adjectives makes sense – but my writing would certainly better without them.

For the record:

Nouns name people, places, things and ideas.

Verbs are doing words. They tell you what is going on. We say

Adjectives modify nouns by telling you what kind it is, how many and which is the one being talked about.

Adverbs do the same job for verbs.

2 thoughts on “Go easy on adjectives

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