Avoiding Weak Adjectives

Adjectives are words we use to describe someone or something. They usually stand next to a noun or pronoun or relate to them. Their task is to modify these nouns or pronouns - that is, to give us more information about them. As such, adjectives explain qualities of people, objects, or places.

Avoiding Weak Adjectives

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

For example:

Tall, dark, pretty, nervous, amazing, boring, difficult, expensive, warm, scary…

A well-written piece is characterized by the use of multiple adjectives. These words serve to enrich the written piece, make it clearer to the reader, and improve the reader's understanding of the subject that is being described.

Essays and articles which lack adjectives are not only considered samples of poor writing but they also often fail to present a clear meaning that every reader should easily understand.

For example:

A man came asking for Jimmy.

This sentence does not contain any adjectives. Therefore, we, as readers, do not know anything about the man who asked for Jimmy. If we rewrite this same sentence using adjectives, we will be better able to imagine this man or guess who he is.

A man came asking for Jimmy. => A tall, slim man wearing an old blue uniform came asking for Jimmy.

Now that the sentence has been revised, we can tell more about the man's appearance (tall and skinny), including the clothes (old and blue) he was wearing.

In addition to clarifying the meaning and context of a sentence, adjectives are a great tool every writer should use to make their writing richer, more interesting, vivid, and engaging.

For example:

  • I was approached by a beautiful, cheerful girl.
  • On the trip, we saw some scenic, colorful landscape.
  • I think my grumpy cat is unusually happy today.

Is there anything wrong with using adjectives in writing?

While it is essential that we use adjectives in writing, it is also important that we follow a couple of simple rules which define strong writing skills:

  • use a variety of adjectives
  • do not make adjectives stronger only by adding words such as "very" or "really"
  • do not weaken strong adjectives by turning them into adverbs.

Using a variety of adjectives

A common mistake writers make is using many adjectives, but not a large variety of them. More precisely, lack of creativity and time dedicated to editing can lead us to write pieces that include a great number of repetitive adjectives.

For instance, some things are "nice" and "good" but not all positive people and objects should be described using these two common adjectives. Instead, our writing is improved when we embrace the full range of adjectives available.

Incorrect example:

I am so happy because I had a good evening last night. I went to a nice party and met some really nice people. The nice and happy host greeted everyone with a smile and I'm sure everyone had a good time.

What is wrong with this example?

This example shows that the writer has insufficient vocabulary to master descriptive writing. The paragraph uses the same weak adjectives ("happy", "good", and "nice") several times.

Why are these adjectives weak?

Adjectives such as "cold" or "good" are weak because they are gradable. This means that they alone do not tell us how cold or how good something it.
"Cold" could mean below zero degrees, but it can also be cold when the temperature is higher.

On the other hand, "freezing" is not a gradable adjective. On the contrary, it is considered a strong adjective because it specifically relates to low temperatures and provides a precise description.

Similarly, something can be "good", meaning "not bad", or it can be so good, meaning "great" or even "the best".

A paragraph filled with weak adjectives can lead readers to lose focus because they might feel like they are reading a monotonous, repetitive piece. It also fails to help the readers create images of what they are reading in their minds.

In the case of the example used above, readers could find it difficult to feel like they were present at the party and that they truly understand what the atmosphere was like.

This is why we should replace most of the weak adjectives with strong ones. It is not wrong to keep some weak adjectives, but it is important not to use them too much.

Revised example:

I am so happy because I had a fantastic evening last time. I went to an awesome party and met some nice people. The excited and friendly host greeted everyone with a smile. I'm sure all the guests had a great time!

The best way to replace repetitive adjectives by stronger ones is to look up synonyms of the word you are struggling with. Keep in mind that not every synonym will fit your specific context! Yet, you should be able to have several alternatives at your disposal.

Some adjectives are weak and ambiguous. If not made stronger in a specific context, these adjectives can cause the reader to misinterpret the message the writer is trying to convey.

For example:

  • Dan is cold.
  • Marie is hot.

The first sentence can be interpreted in several different ways. "Cold" is a weak adjective that does not tell us much about Dan. Some readers can think that Dan feels cold because he is exposed to cold temperatures, while others may get an impression that he is a cold person (lacking emotions).

The second sentence, too, is made confusing by using a weak adjective. Marie could feel hot due to high temperatures, or could simply be complimented as a good-looking person.

To avoid such misinterpretations, you should always identify these inherently weak adjectives and think about whether you can make them stronger or pair them with a different verb to improve clarity.

For example:

  • Dan is cold. => Dan feels cold. or Dan is freezing.
  • Dan is cold. => Dan is cold-hearted.
  • Marie is hot. => Marie feels hot.
  • Marie is hot. => Marie is good-looking.

Making weak adjectives stronger

Weak adjectives should not be made stronger by adding words like "very", "so", or "really", but by being replaced with an entirely new adjective which is, on its own, stronger than the weak adjective. For every weak adjective, there is at least one adjective that describes the same feeling or attribute on a greater/lesser scale.

For example:

  • (very) good => great, amazing, awesome, fantastic, superb, splendid
  • (very) nice => kind, friendly or pleasant, delightful, marvelous
  • (very) happy => thrilled, elated, ecstatic

During the editing process, writers should spot all the adjectives they wrote together with words such as "very", "really", and "so", and replace as many of them as possible with stronger adjectives.

For example:

They played very good music and served really good food. => They played beautiful music and served delicious food.

We watched a very bad movie with really bad acting last night. => We watched an awful movie with terrible acting last night.

What else do adjectives do?

Adjectives can also compliment a linking verb such as feel or smell. Linking verbs are those which describe a state of being.

For example:

  • This pasta tastes delicious.
  • Something in the kitchen smells bad.
  • I feel excited about tomorrow!

In addition, adjectives can also compliment the verb to be to describe a noun that precedes it.

For example:

  • Marcus and Tanya's wedding was beautiful.
  • My dog is always happy.
  • You said no roads were bumpy in England!

In these cases, too, we should pay attention not to overuse weak adjectives.

For example:

  • The trip was very tiring and I feel very tired. => The trip was tiring and I feel exhausted.
  • The pizza you made tasted so tasty. => The pizza you made tasted delicious.
  • My parents were really scared so I felt scared, too. => My parents were terrified, so I felt scared, too.

Using strong adjectives as adverbs

Lastly, it is also important that writers do not use strong adjectives as adverbs which modify another weak adjective because this will result in redundant words. Such a sentence can be made shorter and more effective by keeping the stronger adjective only and taking out the weak one.

For example:

  • John Mitchell's performance was terribly bad. => John Mitchell's performance was terrible.
  • The point you made at the meeting was significantly good. => The point you made at the meeting was significant.
  • Carrie's new movie is entertainingly funny. => Carrie's new move is entertaining.

In conclusion, every writer may need to use weak adjectives sometimes. Some things and people are, of course, "good" and others are simply "bad". However, to avoid making your article repetitive, simplistic, or vague, you should always:

  • consider whether your weak adjectives can be replaced with stronger ones without losing meaning (for example: dirty => filthy)
  • avoid making adjectives stronger by adding "very", "really", or "so" (for example: very funny => hilarious)
  • make sure the combination of noun + verb + weak adjective will not leave the reader wondering what you actually meant (for example: He is cold => He feels cold)
  • do not turn your strong adjectives into adverbs only to connect them with weak adjectives (for example: peacefully calm => peaceful)

Get Updates, Special Offers, and English Resources

Download your FREE GIFT (the first two chapters of
English Short Stories Book and Workbook)
as soon as you join!

English Short Stories

By submitting your email, you consent to receiving updates and newsletters from us and to the sharing of your personal data with third parties for the purposes of sending you communications. We will not spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more information, please see our privacy policy.