Killing Adjectives

adjectives

Mark Twain once wrote, “If you catch an adjective, kill it.” It’s good stylistic advice, although Twain was exaggerating, of course. We couldn’t very well kill off all adjectives.

“What color was the dog that bit you?”

“What?”

“The color of the dog?”

“Uh…”

But using too many adjectives (and adverbs) is a common mistake of inexperienced writers. The problem with adjectives and adverbs is that they are often tacked on to a weak noun or verb when a single strong noun or verb without the adjective or adverb would produce a greater effect. Here are a couple of examples:

Interest in the election has increased dramatically. -Weak verb modified by an adverb

Better:  Interest in the election has surged. -Strong verb

Samantha adores very tall buildings. -Weak noun modified by an adjective, which is further modified by an adverb (very)

Better: Samantha adores skyscrapers. – Strong noun

In the following sentences, replace adverb/verb combinations and adjective/noun combinations with strong verbs and strong nouns. Compare your revisions with mine.

  1. Colbart lives in a miserable little house.
  2. Colbart’s ex-wife lives in a large stately house
  3. Abigail hadn’t realized beforehand that such a large number of people would be at the theater.
  4. We looked forward fearfully to the beginning of the school year.
  5. The drunk walked unsteadily toward his car.
  6. Professor Snodgrass is an extraordinarily significant person in the field of kinetics.
  7. The student complained childishly about his workload.
  8. Bart’s retirement party was a great failure.
  9. The caravan drove into a violent snowstorm.
  10. Jadwiga looked steadily and intently into Bart’s eyes.
  11. In time the province will completely use up its natural resources.
  12. The election was a spectacular success for the governing party.
  13. Bobby is a highly skilled and knowledgeable chess player .

Possible revisions:

  1. Colbart lives in a hovel.
  2. Colbart’s ex-wife lives in a mansion.
  3. Abigail hadn’t anticipated that such a crowd at the theater.
  4. We dreaded the beginning of the school year.
  5. The drunk staggered toward his car.
  6. Professor Snodgrass is a giant in the field of kinetics.
  7. The student whined about his workload.
  8. Bart’s retirement party was a disaster.
  9. The caravan drove into a blizzard.
  10. Jadwiga gazed into Bart’s eyes.
  11. In time the province will exhaust its natural resources.
  12. The election was a triumph for the governing party.
  13. Bobby is an expert chess player. (Here a single adjective replaces an adverb and two adjectives.)
  14. The magician dazzled the audience with his performance.
  15. The symphony was a masterpiece

 

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