Copywriting Quick-Tip: Give Adjectives and Adverbs a Break

Poor modifiers! Overworked and underpaid, that's what they are, constantly making up for other parts of grammar that fail to pull their weight. Look, I'm not priggish when it comes to adjectives and adverbs. I use them constantly (see?). But I try to do so judiciously, because like many writers, I tend to go overboard with descriptors. The result is not good writing. Good writing projects clarity, color, and mood economically, whereas packing a string of adjectives in front of a single, claustrophobic noun produces mere purple prose. So why not give adjectives and adverbs a break by putting lazy nouns and verbs to work. Here are three pointers that can help you add energy to your writing by subtracting unnecessary modifiers. 1. Use a colorful noun or verb that can stand on its own. For example, consider this sentence:

He drove very fast down the highway.

Is that really the best we can do? We've got an adverb, fast, describing the verb drove; we've got another adverb, very, modifying the first one; and the result of this partnership is ho-hum. But what if we lose the modifiers and trade drove for something more compelling?

He tore down the highway.

Or, if that's too dramatic:

He sped down the highway.

Now we've got a verb that can earn its keep while fast and very take ten in the break room. We've also got a more dynamic sentence. 2. Eliminate redundancy. Ask yourself whether what you've written is saying the same thing twice.

She raced swiftly down the track.

Does she sometimes race slowly? Since the verb race implies speed, swiftly is useless repetition. Let's get rid of it. "She raced down the track": that's better, don't you agree? Here's a somewhat different example:

He was revered as a wise and sagacious old man.

Sagacious--what a great word! But if we want to use it, then we really need to do away with wise, because that's what sagacious means: wise. And doesn't it sound weird to say that the old man was wise and wise? Let's just state it this way ...

He was revered as a sagacious old man ...

and leave it at that. For that matter, we might even apply pointer number-one, thus:

He was revered as a sage.

3. When you've got several adjectives or adverbs in a sentence, ask yourself which ones you can cut. If you had to pay five dollars for every modifier you used, which ones would you trim away? Be hard on yourself. You may decide that every adjective or adverb merits the price. But you may also be surprised at how many of them serve no purpose, and you'll like the results when you excise them. Bottom line: Use modifiers thoughtfully and be able to justify each one. A colorful noun or verb may serve you better.    

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